05 November 2023

Christ Jesus Is the Life and Light and Salvation of Body and Soul

It is evident that Jairus has been catechized by the Word of the Lord, for he comes to Jesus in the hope of His mercy. He worships Him by faith with his prayers and petitions, and with his body, too, prostrate before his Lord in humility. The posture of his body confesses the faith in his heart.

It is evident that he, a ruler of the synagogue, has not only cared for others with God’s Word and prayer, but has catechized his own little daughter, as well; else she would not only be sleeping. The Christian fears the grave as little as her bed, but those who die apart from Christ are swallowed up, body and soul, by eternal death.

Such death is the legacy and inheritance of all the daughters and sons of Adam & Eve. All of you will die — and must die — because all of you sin and fall short of the Glory of God. Indeed, it is necessary that you die to your sin, to yourself, and to the world, in order that you be set free and raised up to newness of life in the Body of Christ Jesus.

But so it is, in Him, that death does not have the last word, final though it seems. Even death cannot end your gladness when you have become a child, not only of man, but of God. By faith in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, you live, even though you die. That is our bold confession, on this day as throughout the year, as we remember with thanksgiving the faithful departed who have gone before us over this past year. They are not “dead and gone,” but alive forever with the Lord.

For the very Son of God has come in the flesh, with a Body and Blood like your own, conceived and born of the Woman, St. Mary, herself a daughter of Adam. He has entered into the house of sin and death where you are. He has crossed over to the other side of the sea in the new and greater Exodus of His Cross and Resurrection, even as He was baptized for you and for all righteousness in the waters of the Jordan River. He made the depths of the sea a road for the redeemed to cross over; and, as you are baptized into Him, you pass through death into Life everlasting with Him.

To that end, He now comes with His Ministers of the Gospel, who follow Him and bear His Name, who preach His Word and give His good gifts to the children of men. With His Word and the touch of His hand, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies you and His whole Christian Church with the Holy Spirit of His God and Father. So does His Word go out into all the world, His Voice to the ends of the earth. And His Word declares that Life and Light and Salvation are found in Him.

Jairus is prompted to seek Him out by his desperate need for the sake of his dear daughter, and by his faith in the Word and Flesh of Christ Jesus he prays and intercedes for his girl, for the life and health and strength of her body. He prostrates himself and worships Jesus with his heart and mind, with his words and actions, and with his whole body, as well. And his prayer is that Jesus would come in the flesh to lay His hands on the little girl, in order to raise her up from death to life again.

You hear the attention that is given here to the body. And at the same time, you know that your own body is afflicted by the curse of sin and death. Your flesh suffers and decays, it perishes and fades like the grass and its flower. There is no lasting life but only sickness and death in your body.

That poor woman with the twelve-year hemorrhage certainly knew and experienced that frailty of her flesh and the weight of her mortality.

For all of that, the truth remains that Christ Jesus has come in His own Body of flesh and blood. He has suffered and died for all your sins and transgressions, and He is risen from the dead in His glorified Body for your justification, in order to rescue and raise you in both body and soul. For all that He has accomplished for you in His Body, He has also given to you in Holy Baptism, and He continues to bestow upon you in the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood. Already in the Gospel He delivers your soul from death — as He will your body in the Resurrection.

Therefore, do not weep and wail and mourn like those who have no hope.  Rather, pray, praise, and give thanks in the hope and confidence of Christ. Call upon the Name of the Lord, trusting that He hears and answers your prayers and supplications, and that He saves you from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Do not be afraid, but seek Him where He may be found, and so lay hold of Him by the “hem of His garment,” which is to say, by availing yourself of His Word and Sacrament.

Not what your senses, your intellect, or your emotions tell you, no matter how convincingly, but what Jesus says and does for you and gives to you determines what is true and what is real. The world will mock and scorn, it will laugh and ridicule the hope that is in you. But never mind that.

The Lord your God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live by and from Him. And by His grace, by His Ministry of the Gospel, He has delivered you from the domain of darkness, death, and damnation, and brought you into the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom you have redemption through His Blood, the free and full forgiveness of all your sins in Christ Jesus.

He raises you up and gives you life, already here and now in your body on earth. As surely as He has purified your heart and cleansed your conscience by the washing of your body with the water and His Word in Holy Baptism, so surely does He enliven your body with His Holy Spirit; so that you rise up and live and walk in His Way — from your childhood into your teens and adulthood.

He stretches out His hand to lay hold of you in love, to strengthen and sustain your faith and life in Him through the blessing of His Word and Holy Spirit. And it is your faith in Him that saves you, not as any kind of work or merit on your part, but as receiving and relying on His good Gifts.

The Synagogue and Sabbath Rest of Christ Jesus are where He catechizes you with His Word and calls you daily to repentance. Thus He returns you, again and again, to the significance of your Holy Baptism, to your dying and rising with Him. And He feeds you with Himself for the Life everlasting of your body and soul. He comes to abide with you, that you should abide in Him.

So now, in turn, confess the faith to your neighbors, and catechize your daughters and sons with the Word of Christ Jesus. Be as earnest and eager to do so as Jairus was to seek out Jesus for the sake of his dear little daughter; for it is by the catechesis of the Word of Christ Jesus that you give true and lasting Life to your children and preserve them in body and soul for now and forever.

And little girl, or little boy — young woman, or young man — child of God, whatever your age, do not continue to sin with your body, nor give yourself over to the laziness of apathy and despair, but worship the Lord your God — and love your neighbor as yourself — in and with your body.

As a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, follow Him on the Way that leads to Life even in the midst of death. Enter with Him into the House of your true Father and Mother, in which your weeping is turned into joy and your sorrow gives way to feasting. For your heavenly Bridegroom is here with you, feeding you with the Meat and Drink indeed of His holy Body and precious Blood, that you should not die but live, now and forever. He abides with you, and you abide in Him, both body and soul, waking, sleeping, in life, in death, and in the Resurrection to the Life everlasting

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

08 October 2023

The Marriage Feast of the King's Son

The Kingdom of Heaven is all about the Father and His Son and the great Marriage Feast of Christ Jesus and His Bride, the Holy Christian Church.

From the Foundation of the World, from the Fall into Sin, through all the ages of the Patriarchs and Prophets, to the coming of our Lord in the Flesh, His Cross and Resurrection, even to the close of the age, the Lord provides for His people (and all His creatures); He feeds them in body and soul, for this life and the Life everlasting, and He promises a great Feast indeed.

Now, as we have depicted in our Lord’s Parable this morning, what He promised and provided for His people in the Old Testament was frequently despised, neglected, and rejected; and in response, He disciplined His people and called them to repentance — to receive the food with which He fed them, to rely upon His providential care, and to rejoice in His gracious gifts.

And in His tender mercies, long-suffering patience, and steadfast loving-kindness, He continued to preserve His people, to provide for them and feed them.

And when the time was fully come, the Father sent forth His dearly-beloved only-begotten Son into our Flesh, to call and claim His Bride and bring her Home rejoicing.

Thus did St. John the Baptist go before Him, to preach and prepare His Way, as the Best Man for the Bridegroom. He pointed the people to Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world — in whom all the promises and all the sacrifices of fattened calves, goats and bulls, sheep and oxen have found their fulfillment, their meaning and significance.

To that end, the Lord Jesus Himself, the incarnate Son of God, was sacrificed once-for-all upon His Cross, in order to atone for the sins of the world, to redeem the world for God, to justify all of us poor sinners and reconcile us to His God and Father — no longer as strangers and aliens, but as His own dear Bride, a Princess indeed, a daughter of the King.

This is truly a cause for great rejoicing, now and forever — in the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end. For not only is the Lamb of God sacrificed, but His own Flesh and Blood are the Meal of Salvation for His Bride and all her dear children.

But we know how lukewarm the world is — and even our own mortal flesh — how readily we forego the things of Christ and the Kingdom of God for our earthly enterprises, our farms and our business dealings, so that we ignore His summons and decline His invitation.

So, too, St. John the Baptist, Christ Jesus Himself, and almost all of His holy Apostles were not simply ignored but persecuted and put to death for their preaching of the precious Holy Gospel.

The Lord’s own chosen people, by and large, refused and rejected Him — for which reason God sent the Roman armies as the instruments of His judgment to tear down, burn, and destroy the once holy city of Jerusalem — a sobering indication that the external walls and trappings of the Church on earth will not preserve a rebellious and hard-hearted people from the Lord’s just judgment.

The King’s Feast is prepared and ready, nevertheless. The promised Christ has come, His Cross and Resurrection have been accomplished, and His Body and His Blood are given and poured out as Meat and Drink indeed for His disciples to eat and to drink in faith and with thanksgiving.

The Lord’s Supper is, indeed, already the true and real Foretaste of the Feast that is hosted and celebrated forever in Paradise. And this Holy Supper, with all that it gives and does, is the Heart and Center of the Church — on earth as it is in heaven. Not a means to some other end, it is the Kingdom of Heaven among us, the Banquet of the King’s own dear Son and His Royal Bride.

Thus, in the sending of His Apostles to make disciples of all the nations — by the preaching and catechesis of His Word and by Holy Baptism in His Name — the Lord Jesus calls and invites all people to come and enter into His Wedding Feast in the Kingdom of His God and Father.

That is the very invitation that each of you has received through the Ministry of the Word. And that  is why you are here this morning, in anticipation of the Final Judgment, the Resurrection of all flesh, and the Life everlasting of body and soul in and with Christ Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom.

So, it is good and right that you are here. And for those who are baptized and catechized in the Name of the Lord, who confess His holy Name, it is good and right that you should feast upon the Lamb of God here at His Table in His Home, in His Supper. Truly, forgiveness, life, and salvation are here freely given and bestowed upon you in the Word and Flesh of Christ Jesus.

But take heed to His warning in this Parable, that you not presume upon your gracious Host by entering upon His Feast without the wedding garment.

The ending of the Parable at hand is a call to repentance and the fear of the Lord. Not that you should rely upon yourself and your own righteousness (which is nothing), but that you should be clothed in Christ Jesus and His righteousness and holiness by grace through faith in His Word.

Just as the City and Temple of Jerusalem were no protection against the judgment of God for those who refused and rejected His beloved Son, so it is that simply being in church, sitting in the pew, hearing the Word with your ears, and receiving the Sacrament into your body will not save you apart from faith in Christ Jesus, by which alone you are justified and holy in the presence of God.

What then? Where faith and love are lacking in your heart, soul, body, mind, and spirit, what shall you do about that? If you have soiled, forgotten, or misplaced your wedding garment, how then shall you be dressed for the King’s Banquet?

Repent of your sins and avail yourself of His Word, whereby He does and accomplishes all things. Return to the significance of your Holy Baptism by contrition and repentance, confession and Absolution. The Lord who adorned you with His righteousness in those waters to be a member of His Bride, likewise cleanses you and covers you again by and with His Word of forgiveness.

It is His Word of the Gospel that renews, strengthens, and sustains your faith and life in Him, whereby He also bears good fruits in you after His own kind. Thus do you hallow His Name and honor your Bridegroom with the good works of your calling and stations, leading a good life in holy faith and holy love by His Word and Holy Spirit.

To be sure, your sins persist in this body and life, and your works are never perfect in themselves. But where you recognize your sins and weaknesses, failures and shortcomings, take to heart the grace and mercy and forgiveness of your Lord, who loves you. Fear, love, and trust in Him, not by your own reason or strength, but by faith in His Word and promises. His judgment does not fall upon those who trust in Him and partake of His Feast in the hope and confidence of His Gospel, no matter how frail and faulty your life has been. He has called you to come, that He should feed you with Himself and all the fruits and benefits of His Cross and Resurrection.

Therefore, look to Him and wait upon His mercy. And see here how He opens wide His generous hand to give you His Meat and Drink indeed. Truly does He satisfy your body and soul with His own divine Life, with His own holy Body and precious Blood. And so does He also adorn you as His own Bride with His own Righteousness, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

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

02 April 2023

Enter into the Holy City with Your Priestly King

It is truly an amazing and remarkable thing, that your King, the Lord Himself, the Son of God in His own human Flesh, comes to you and makes His dwelling here with you.

But what does this mean for you?  It’s a bit frightening, really.  I mean, does He come to provide for you or punish you?  To promote you, or to pull rank on you?  After all, a visit from the powers that be and the governing authorities often means discipline or consequences for wrongdoing.

There is a certain ambiguity and tension to the coming of your King.  Is He coming to put you in your place, or to remove you from your place and your position?  Wondering and worrying about when and where and how the axe is going to fall is nerve-wracking and scary.  And if, on the other hand, you get your hopes up that your King is coming to set things right and make everything better in your life on earth, you’re likely going to be surprised and disappointed by what He does.

It’s true enough, as the Holy Scriptures testify, that things are pretty messed up, not only in your own personal life, but on a national and global scale.  And even if you’re not a ruler or a boss — perhaps you’re one of the little guys, or you’re still making your way to wherever it is that you’re going — you’ve done your part to mess things up in your own little corner of the world.

There is no one who is righteous; no, not one — no one but Christ Jesus, the King who comes to His own people in righteousness and peace.  But then, consider how this one Lord Jesus Christ is regarded and received.  He’s hailed on Palm Sunday, yes, but mocked and ridiculed, condemned and crucified by the end of the week.  Falsely accused, brutally beaten, and spit upon.  His closest companions betray Him, deny Him, and abandon Him. How should a King respond to all of that?

Even now, as He enters the Holy City on the cusp of His Passion, it is primarily due to His miracles that the crowds throng to see Him and welcome Him.  His own disciples don’t yet understand what’s going on.  Everyone is eager for a “Bread King,” a great big “Sugar Daddy,” a Miracle Worker who will build a glorious Kingdom on earth and take on all the nations of the world.

To be sure, the raising of Lazarus from the dead has been an impressive Sign, as even the skeptics must admit and the enemies of Jesus grudgingly concede.  But, as a Sign, it points beyond itself to something else, that is, to the dying and rising of the Lord Jesus Himself.  The way that He approached that situation, as you heard last week, has indicated that the Glory of God in Christ is to be found, first of all, in His suffering and death, and only then in His Resurrection and His Life.

That is the pattern, too, of Christian faith and life, as your Baptism signifies and testifies, if you think about the dying and rising of that Holy Sacrament.  It is also your experience of life in the world, with all its ups and downs, with all its hopes and disappointments, frustrations and fears.

It is frankly confusing and difficult to navigate.  Just when you think you’ve finally got it figured out, and gotten your bearings, and found your footing in the world, then everything suddenly shifts and changes, and you’re left not knowing what’s up and what’s down, or which way to turn.

Think of how it must have been for the disciples in the course of that first Holy Week, from Palm Sunday, through Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday and Easter.  The Passion of Christ Jesus is a profound and powerful story, even to consider it.  But it is also the life into which you are baptized, by which the Lord recreates you from the dust of death and conforms you to His own Image.

It is impossible to understand any of this superficially, nor at all apart from the accomplished fact of the Cross and Passion — manifested in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, and now realized for you in His Sacrament of the Altar.  The Lord’s Supper is the interpretive key to the Lord’s Passion, both beforehand and afterwards.  It not only explains what happens to Him, and why, but it now delivers and bestows the Fruits and Benefits of His Cross and Resurrection.

Only in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus — crucified and risen from the dead, given and poured out for you and for the many — only there do you see and know and believe what is the Truth of God in Christ, your King: That He has indeed come to “take your place,” and to “put you in your place,” but in such a way that you could never have guessed or imagined or invented for yourself.

Do not be afraid, dear child of God!  For the Lord has made you a beloved son or daughter of His Church on earth, and therefore a son or daughter of the Father in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  Rejoice in His mercy, and give all thanks and praise to this one Lord Jesus Christ, your King, who comes to you in Love, not to punish you for your sins, but to bear your punishment and grant you His Peace.  He comes to save you from your enemies; to give you rest from your weariness, relief from your fears, and safety in place of uncertainty; and to reign over you in love with His Word.

He has not come to “lord it over you” in the way of earthly monarchs, but, as your Lord, as your Savior and your King, He calls you by His Cross and Resurrection to become and be like Him.

To that end, He has first of all become like you in every way, save only without sin.  He has been tempted in every way that you are; He has suffered every burden of your mortal flesh and every dire consequence of your sin.  He truly has taken your place, your sin and death and every ill, and He has made it all His own, in order to bring you into His place with God the Father in Paradise.

By His Self-Sacrifice He opens up the Way through suffering and death into the Resurrection of the Body and the Life everlasting; for He is a priestly King, a royal High Priest, who enters the Most Holy Place by His own Blood and brings you into the presence of God in His own Body.

He humbles Himself, even unto His death upon the Cross, in order to be exalted and glorified on your behalf by His God and Father.  He becomes a disciple, Himself, in order to make a disciple of you by the catechesis of His Word and by your Holy Baptism in His Name.

So it is that your salvation is accomplished, established, and secure in the Person of Christ Jesus, in His own crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood.

Now, then, He testifies to the Sign of His own Cross and Resurrection by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  His dying and rising are the fulfillment of all things, and they are also then the Sign of your own dying and rising with Him, by which you are saved from sin and death unto Life and Salvation forever.  All that He has suffered and received in your place, in order to rescue and redeem you, to justify and save you, He preaches and gives to you by His Word.

His preaching to you is not simply information to be processed and stored; it actually calls you to follow after Him.  Accordingly, as you hear the testimony of His Cross and Passion, come out to meet Him as He comes in Peace to meet you here at His Altar within His Church on earth.

His preaching of repentance does put you to death, it crucifies and buries you with Him.  So, you do lose “your place,” the place that you have made for yourself, the place of sin and death which Christ has taken from you and made His own.  But so does He also then bring you to Life and put you in His place.  He gives to you His Sonship, His Spirit, and His Glory in and with the Father.

In calling you to follow after Him, His preaching calls you and brings you into the New Covenant of His Flesh and Blood, the Promise of His eternal Inheritance which He has established forever.

Beloved of the Lord, as He entered the Holy City on Palm Sunday for His Cross and Passion, so do you enter the heavenly City, New Jerusalem, by the way and means of His Cross and Passion.

And as He entered the Most Holy Place once for all with His own Blood, by His innocent suffering and death and in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension, so do you now enter with Him into that same Holy of Holies, eternal in the heavens, by His Flesh and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. 

That is why the Liturgy has taught you to cry out in prayer and praise, to rejoice, give thanks, and sing, as the Lord comes to His Altar: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest, and the Peace of the Lord on earth.  For here, indeed, He comes to save you now in this Divine Service, to sustain you with His Word and Holy Spirit, and to sanctify you for the Life everlasting in body and soul with His own holy Body and His holy and precious Blood.

As He thus remembers you in mercy, forgives you all your sins, and gives you His own Life and Salvation in body and soul, so remember Him by faith, repent of all your sins, and rejoice in His Resurrection and His Righteousness.  As surely as He comes to be with you here and now, so shall you surely follow after Him, to be with Him where He is forever and ever.

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

12 March 2023

The Living Water of the Spirit from the Body of Christ Jesus

He knows her, as He knows the hearts and minds of all people. He knows her before she has spoken a single word, as He has known her from before the foundation of the world in His Love.

Oh, yes, He knows her sin, her sordid past, her scandalous life. He knows her serial adultery and present fornication, that she is living in sin with a man who is not her husband. He knows, too, that she is thirsty, not only for water, but for love, for acceptance and companionship, for meaning and purpose in her life, for self-worth and value. And He knows that she will not find it on her own.

But He is the Gift of God, who has come down from the Father in heaven to save sinners like her: To rescue them from sin and death. To pour out the Living Water of the Holy Spirit generously upon them, into their hearts and minds, and into their flesh and bones, to give them eternal Life.

He, too, is thirsty — and hungry, as well — not only for the food and drink that perish, though His body on earth needs both, just as you do. But He hungers and thirsts to do the Will of His Father, to seek and to save the lost to the glory of His holy Name, to become the true worshipers of God.

Therefore, as He has known this Samaritan woman all along, so does He also come to wait for her, to meet her at the well, to give her what she really needs and what she’s looking for unknowingly.

In love for her, with tender mercy and compassion, He catechizes her with the Wisdom of God. He leads her by His Word — from guilt and shame, from doubt and fear — first of all to curiosity and interest — then to the dawning of new hope within her troubled heart, which has for so long ached with disappointment — finally to repentance, and to faith in the One who speaks to her.

He declares to her all things. Not only those things that she has been doing wrong, but the things concerning Himself; that she might learn to know Him, and the power of His Resurrection, and the fellowship of His Cross and Passion; and being conformed to His death by the Gift of His Spirit, that she might also attain to the resurrection of her body and the Life everlasting of body and soul.

He quenches her thirst with the free Gift of His Word and Spirit. And in doing so, He leads her and He brings her to the worship of the Father in the Spirit and the Truth, for which she was created.

He does the same for you. For He is the Gift of God. Ask of Him, and He will quench your thirst, your burning, desperate thirst for something more than what you’ve got, for something to satisfy your aching, empty heart. Indeed, He pours out the Love of God into your heart, and He fills you up with the Living Waters of His Spirit, which freely flow in you and well up as a fountain in you, unto eternal Life, to the worship of the Father in the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What is it that you’ve been chasing after and trying to find, instead of this Gift of God in Christ? What are you trying to do and achieve and to get for yourself? And whose well do you run to, in the heat of the day, in order to fill up your bucket? How many men have you had? Or how many women? Or how do you compete and keep the score? What is it that you worship with your body and your soul, with the investment of your heart and the exercise of all your strength and spirit?

The Lord knows your heart and mind, your thoughts and words and actions. There are no secrets hidden from Him. He knows your sins and all that you have ever done or failed to do. He knows your guilt and shame, your doubts and fears, your ignorance and confusion. He knows your frailty and weaknesses. He knows that you have tried to quench your thirst with all the wrong liquids.

Yet, even knowing all of that, He has come to you in mercy and compassion, in tenderness and loving care, in order to bestow the Gift of His Spirit upon you, and to bring you to the Father in Himself, in perfect peace and genuine hope and real joy, which shall remain and not be used up.

So it is that, even in the desert, He pours out Living Waters to quench your thirst, to cleanse you and refresh you inside and out, in both body and soul — to shatter your rocks and wear down your mountains, but also to float your boat on the ocean waves and preserve your life in the rapids. Tribulation, therefore, does not shipwreck your body and life; it brings forth perseverance, and it builds up your faith, hope, and love in Christ Jesus, in whom you shall not be put to shame.

Consider how He does so, how it is that your Hope in Him is not disappointed, and that you are not put to shame or disgrace, but vindicated and exalted in His own crucified and risen Body.

He is the Rock on the Mountain of God; and He is the One who is struck by the Staff of Moses, by the command and judgment of the Law of the Lord. Thus do the cleansing Rivers of the Water and the Blood flow from His sacrificed Body — and times of refreshment in His Atonement.

By His Holy Cross and Passion, at about the Sixth Hour, He has grown weary and thirsted, in order to strengthen and preserve you in the one true faith, and so to provide you with His Sabbath Rest.

In the completion of His good work He gives to you His Holy Spirit through His Word of Holy Absolution, the free and full forgiveness of all your sins — those you know and regret, and those you don’t even realize or remember — He removes them all, and He remembers them no more.

As He is thus lifted up in death upon the Cross for your salvation, and as He thus returns to the Father in His Resurrection and Ascension, so does His own Holy Body become the true Temple of God. So the Mountain of God is now wherever He is with His preaching and catechesis, with His Body given and His Blood poured out: from Jerusalem to Samaria and the ends of the earth.

Here, then, is the Gift of God for you: Living Water from the Rock of Ages, the Spirit of the Father in the Word and Sacrament of Christ Jesus, His Son. And right here and now — by His grace, through faith in Him — you worship the Father in the Spirit and the Truth. Such is your Life and your Salvation forever.

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

19 February 2023

To Eat and Drink in the Fellowship of God

It is for this purpose that God the Lord has brought you out of Egypt, for this purpose that He has written and revealed His Word to you — that you should have Life and Fellowship with Him, that you should eat and drink in His presence, in peace and without fear.  Indeed, this is your Life, both now and forever — to be and abide with God in harmony, in holy faith and holy love, in Christ.

In view of that divine Life to which He calls you, do all that He has commanded you.  Fear, love and trust in Him above all things.  Hear and heed His Word.  Call upon His holy Name.  Follow the Cloud of His Glory by day, His Pillar of Fire by night, and dwell with Him in His Tabernacle.

Eat and drink the Food that He provides — the Living Bread from heaven, the Living Water from the Rock — for these are your Meat and Drink indeed, even here and now in the wilderness.

So, also, love one another; for love is of God, and you and your brothers and sisters in Christ are His own people, the beloved sheep of His green pasture.  Love is the fulfillment of the whole Law; for love does no harm to the neighbor, but helps him and supports him in all things, at all times.

Do not yearn for the feasting and fashions of Egypt, from which the Lord has set you free.  Do not return to your sins, like a dog to its vomit, nor indulge in the lusts of your flesh, like a pig in its wallow.  Rather, stay the course and trust the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and spirit.

Do not grow restless in the desert, nor suppose that the Lord has forgotten you or failed to keep His promises.  Tremble in fear of the Lord, to be sure, for He is the Holy One before whom all creation bows in reverence.  But do not quail in terror and deathly despair, as though His desire were to destroy you.  It is not.  His desire is to save you and give you Life, because He loves you.

Repent of your false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.  And do not attempt to fathom the heart and Spirit of God apart from His incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ, the beloved and well-pleasing One, the new and greater Joshua who serves you in love.  Not even Moses enters the glorious presence of the Lord God Almighty apart from this Joshua, Christ Jesus, the Word-made-Flesh who tabernacles among His own with grace, mercy, and peace.

The Law of God is good and wise.  It instructs you in the way that leads to Life in fellowship and harmony with the Holy Trinity.  Yet, apart from Christ Jesus it is a consuming Fire, which accuses and condemns you and threatens to destroy you utterly and forever.  It exposes the darkness in your heart and mind, the self-idolatry and lack of love in your thoughts, words, and deeds.  It uncovers the nakedness of your sin and the stench of death that already clings to the carcass of your flesh.

Apart from Christ Jesus, you are an animated corpse, merely biding your time on the way to your grave (and far worse) — separated from the Living God and devoid of His Life-giving Holy Spirit.

Who, then, shall save you from this body of death and the darkness and damnation of your sin?

It is Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus, the beloved Son of the Living God.  He is the Holy One of Israel.  He is the Christ, your Savior.  He is the Glory of God — in Person — in the Flesh.  He is the Sacrifice of Atonement, and His Blood is the New Covenant of peace and reconciliation with God.  You are anointed with the Holy Spirit unto Life, and you have Fellowship with the Father, only in Jesus.

So, listen to Him.  Hear what He says to you, take it to heart and believe it, and live by His Word.

Consider also the touch of His hand — His Body given for you — and be raised up from the death of doubt and fear to Life and Hope and Peace and Joy in His holy Flesh and precious Blood.

He has brought you through the waters out of Egypt.  He has baptized you in the Cloud and in the Sea of His own Exodus, His Cross and Resurrection.  And so shall He bring you through the Jordan into Canaan, the Promised Land, flowing with Milk and Honey and every Good Thing.

Not Moses the Lawgiver, but this new and greater Joshua does it, who is the fulfillment of the Law.  By the Gospel of His Cross and His forgiveness of your sins, He brings you in with Himself.

So shall He bring you at last up to the high and holy Mountain of God in and with Himself.  That is, not to Sinai, but to the true Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, His Holy Hill — not consumed with fire and brimstone, lightning and thunder and billowing smoke, but bathed in the beauty of His divine holiness and cloaked with the radiance of His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

The time is not yet.  But do not fret, do not be afraid, do not hide yourself away.  Do not withdraw from the world and curl up inside yourself.  Do not lie there frozen, nor sit there dumbfounded.

See, here is Jesus.  Stand up, and follow Him.  He is your Pillar of Cloud by day and Fire by night.

He leads you forward by the way of His Cross.  That is hard to understand, more difficult to bear, but it will not defeat you.  It is by the wood of His Cross that He parts the sea and opens the Rock and pours down Manna from heaven, by the wood of His Cross that He defeats all your enemies, sin, death, the devil, and hell, the world with its wickedness, and the treachery of your own flesh.

Cease your grumbling and complaining.  The Lord has heard the cries and lamentations of your heart, and He has already acted to save you by His mighty arm and His outstretched hands.

So, then, close your mouth altogether, and first of all open your ears to hear what Christ Jesus the Lord shall say to you; for you have nothing worth saying until He has spoken and you have listened.  Then open your mouth and be fed.  Eat from His hand, drink from His Cup.  And after He has filled you with Himself, confess what He has said, what He has done, what He has given.

Yes, you’re in the wilderness — and Jesus is right there with you all the way.  You’ll not starve, for He is feeding you.  Your shoes will not wear out, your feet will not blister or swell, so long as you follow Him.  Though an army encamp against you, do not be afraid.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is with you; the Lord God of Sabaoth is for you.

Lift up your eyes roundabout and see.  You are surrounded by the Glory of the Lord, already in His Ministry of the Gospel here within His Church on earth, and so also in that great Cloud of His witnesses, His saints, who have gone before you in the faith and live forever in His presence: Moses and Elijah, Aaron and his sons, Samuel and David, Peter, James, and John, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, Stephen and Paul, Timothy and Titus — a multitude of disciples from every nation, tribe, and tongue, which no man could ever count, but God Himself has numbered.

All of them have been transfigured by the Cross of Christ Jesus to share His Resurrection and His Life everlasting.  And you are likewise being transfigured by His Cross.  Not yet outwardly — for your mortal flesh is still wasting away — but inwardly you are being renewed, day by day, in hope and expectation of the Glory that shall be revealed in you, both body and soul, in the Resurrection.

Here and now the surety of that exceedingly great and precious Promise is being given to you — the Word of Christ Jesus in your ears, in your heart, and in your mouth (for He is not far away but near to you with His Word); and the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  See, He stretches out His hand, not to harm you, but to save.

To eat and drink in His presence — to feast upon Him, who is the Lord your God in the Flesh — this is already a sweet Foretaste of the neverending Feast to come.  It is the endless Sabbath Rest that remains for the people of God.  It is your Life and your Salvation in Fellowship with God.

Arise, therefore, and do not fear, but live.

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

16 February 2023

With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility

Theses on the Salutary Use of Adiaphora in the Conduct of the Liturgy

I first began developing these theses back in the fall of 2009, largely because I was frustrated with the way that our doctrine of adiaphora was often misunderstood and misapplied. I published the original version on another blog, and then also had the opportunity to work through them with local colleagues over a series of winkels. Based upon feedback, discussion and debate, and further reflection, I revised the theses in 2014 for presentation at the Synod's Institute on Liturgy, Preaching, and Church Music. Since that time, I have referred to them on occasion and shared them with others, because they have been helpful in navigating some of the landmines that remain from the still unresolved "worship wars" of the 1990s. And I was very pleased by the opportunity to present them for discussion at a recent "day of theological reflection" with some of my brother pastors from the Columbus, Aurora, and Seymour Circuits of the Indiana District. As a number of people have asked to see the theses, I promised to make them available for wider consideration and discussion; and to that end, I offer them here, as follows:

Defining and Identifying Freedom in Worship

The freedom of faith in worship, as in all of Christian life, is the freedom of the Gospel. It is the freedom of divine righteousness, holiness, life and love in Christ Jesus, by grace through faith in Him, and not by human works. It stands in contrast to the bondage of legalism, by which one attempts to justify himself before God and to acquire divine life by the keeping of the Law.

There is also the freedom of adiaphora, that is, the freedom of rites and ceremonies and other practices that are neither commanded nor forbidden by God. In themselves, they are free, either to be taken up and used or set aside and let go. What is more, as man is not justified by keeping the Law of God, far less is he justified by the performance or rejection of adiaphora.

There are those things that God has commanded, and those things that He has forbidden, both in life and in worship, which are therefore not adiaphora. According to these commands, genuine good works are done, not for justification, but in obedience to God and in love for the neighbor. For though we are free from the condemnation of the Law, we are not free to disregard it.

The Right and Responsible Use of Freedom in Worship

The teaching and confession of adiaphora should not be abused (in the service of self-interest); instead, true Christian freedom is rightly used in love (in the self-sacrificing service of others). In faith toward God the Christian is free, but in love he is bound to serve his neighbor.

Love will be ready and willing to sacrifice anything and everything that is truly free (adiaphora), but love will never sacrifice anything of the Gospel; nor will love willingly contradict or disobey the Law of God. That is to say, love will readily give up whatever may be given up, but love will tenaciously insist upon that which is necessary, as determined by the Word of the Lord.

All things are lawful in Christ, but not all things are meet, right and salutary (1 Cor. 10:23). Even that which is free and clear can be measured and evaluated according to its service and support of the Word of God, and thus determined to be more or less helpful to faith and love.

Pastoral Care and Oversight in the Use of Freedom

The freedom of adiaphora allows for a flexibility in caring for the Church under a wide variety of circumstances, and across broad differences of time and place. Such practices are thus to be used with pastoral care, and as a means of pastoral care. Therefore, pastors should exercise discretion and discernment in their use of adiaphora, and they must discipline themselves in doing so, for the sake of faith and love.

In a similar way, bishops (overseers) ought to care for the pastors in their necessary exercise of discretion and discernment, and so also assist them in their fellowship with one another.

Criteria for the Right Use of Freedom in Worship

Freedom in worship is used rightly, in faith toward God and in love toward the neighbor, when it is used to serve the catechesis and confession of the Word of God.

The boundaries and parameters of freedom in worship are established and contoured, not only by explicit commands and prohibitions, but also implicitly by the constitutive rites and ceremonies of Holy Baptism, the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and the administration of the Holy Communion in remembrance of Jesus. These divinely given means of grace are the foundation, the beating heart, and the central high point of the Church’s faith and life in Christ. Whatever else may be done in worship is determined in relation to these constitutive means.

Along similar lines, but more practically speaking, the use of rubrics, rites and ceremonies is fundamental to the pastoral ministry. Rubrics are the instructions for the conduct of the Liturgy, mutually agreed upon within the fellowship of the Church. Rites are the words that are spoken in the administration of the Liturgy. Ceremonies are the bodily actions, movements, furnishing, and adornments of the Liturgy. Rubrics are needed for an orderly conduct of corporate communal life. Rites belong to the fact that God does everything by His Word. Ceremonies belong to the fact that human life is lived in the body, occupying space and time.

It is not possible to administer and receive the means of grace without ceremonies. However, not all ceremonies are created equal. Some ceremonies are better, and some are worse than others; and some ceremonies have no place in the Church, even if they would otherwise be "free."

Ceremonies powerfully support (or contradict) the confession and catechesis of the Word. One may compare the role and purpose and positive benefit of ceremonies in human relationships.

Ceremony as Beautiful Adornment of the Gospel

The measure of a ceremony’s worth and benefit requires more than the avoidance of overtly false doctrine. The best ceremonies are not only true (as opposed to false) but are positively helpful in confessing the Word of God, and they are beautiful in adorning His Liturgy. Whatever is true, lovely and of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise, dwell on those things (Philippians 4:8).

It is appropriate and salutary to adorn the Ministry of the Gospel with beauty, as a confession of faith in the Word and work of Christ, and as a catechesis in the hidden truth of the Gospel. One may consider such examples as chanting, the sign of the cross, chasubles, the elevation of the Sacrament, genuflecting at various points in the Liturgy, and the use of incense.

The Basic Rubrics of Reverence and Courtesy

Reverence toward God and courtesy toward the neighbor summarize the criteria of faith and love and so provide a foundational response to all questions pertaining to the proper use of adiaphora.

That which is harmful to faith and love is not free but forbidden. That which is irreverent or rude is likewise not free but forbidden (Formula SD X.1, 7, 9). The Second Commandment requires that God’s Name be kept holy, and that God must be sanctified by His priests and His people.

Pastors and congregations, and individual members of a congregation, should set aside their personal proclivities and preferences for the sake of faith and love (1 Cor. 10:23–33; Rom. 14). Love will care for the entire body of Christ, for the minority as much or more than the majority, not allowing either the few or the many to lord it over the Holy Communion of the Church.

Making changes in ceremony, including the introduction of new ceremonies, requires a special measure of pastoral care. It also requires the patience of pastors and parishioners for one another.

Likewise, love for the body of Christ — for the Church in all times and places, past, present, and future — calls for circumspection and great caution when it comes to changes in practice.

Here, again, the pastoral oversight of godly bishops would be of particularly salutary benefit.

Tradition and Catholicity Give Shape to the Church’s Exercise of Freedom in Worship

Tradition is generally more conducive to the Gospel than novelty (1 Corinthians 11:1–2, 16–26), because it is received as a gift from the past, rather than fabricated in the present.

In contrast to the legalism of Rome on the right and of the Reformed on the left, Lutherans have been evangelically conservative with respect to tradition.

There is always a reason for any practice in the Church, even if this reason is no longer readily apparent. These reasons need to be evaluated in order to judge the merits of the practice.

Lutherans have also recognized that traditions are interpreted and understood, at any given time, within a theological context, which adds to their significance either positively or negatively.

Catholicity in practice is generally more conducive to love than personal innovation, because it belongs to the entire body of the Church, to the household and family of God, rather than being the invention or property of any isolated individual or small group.

The collective wisdom of the Church is usually wiser than the personal insights of an individual. True, the nature and needs of pastoral care require the free exercise of pastoral discernment and discretion, just as the Church in each time and place is free with respect to human customs. Yet, the starting point should be what has been given and received within the life of the Church, rather than the novelty of personal ingenuity. Consider, for example, the tremendous value and benefit of the Church Year and the Lectionary, the Ordinary and Propers of the Divine Service, and the use of customary vestments and furnishings.

Consistency and Continuity Serve the Church’s Catechesis and Confession of Christ

Consistency and continuity of practice are beneficial to peace and rest in the Liturgy of Christ; they permit a ready participation of the entire congregation in the Church’s worship of Christ.

Frequent fluctuations and diversity in practice are unsettling to the people and easily distract from the Liturgy of Christ; they require a level of literacy, attention, energy, and effort that tends to frustrate or prevent the participation of many members in the Church’s worship of Christ.

Neither is it an appropriate use of freedom when hymns, or any other practices, are used simply to fill up space and pass the time, or when they are used to entertain emotions instead of edifying the people and glorifying God by the confession of His Word (Formula SD X.1, 7, 9). Whatever is done is to honor and adorn, serve and support the Divine Liturgy of the Word and Sacrament.

The Benefit of Good Church Order for the Responsible Use of Freedom in Worship

The unity of a common confession of the faith is both embodied and substantiated by a unity of practice. Church fellowship does not depend upon a uniformity in adiaphora, but the fellowship of the Church gravitates toward a common and consistent usage of adiaphora wherever possible. And the beauty of it is, the Church is free to do so.

It is not a violation of faith or freedom when the fellowship of the Church mutually agrees, in love, to order and conduct its liturgical life according to common rubrics, rites and ceremonies. The example of the 16th-century Church Orders is a significant case in point. Good order, polity, and the legislation, exercise, and jurisdiction of good church government should not be equated with the bondage of legalism; it rather belongs to the responsible use of freedom in love.

Especially in gatherings of the Church’s fellowship beyond that of a local congregation, the use of commonly agreed-upon rites and ceremonies is most appropriate and beneficial. In general, the same principle pertains to the practices of each congregation as a fellowship of the one Church.

05 February 2023

Your Righteousness Goes Before You

It is because of who you are in Christ Jesus that you now live as God has called you to live.  That is to live in the way of righteousness for which you have been created, redeemed, and sanctified by His Word and Holy Spirit; for the great salvation that your dear Lord Jesus has accomplished for you and for all people is not the abolishment of the Law, but its fulfillment.  Not only does He keep all of the Commandments of God, but in doing so He also teaches you to do the same.

His teaching and His righteousness are not like those of the scribes and Pharisees.  But it’s not that He dismisses the Law, which is the Word of God and the revelation of His good and acceptable Will.  Jesus does not trade legalism for anarchy, debauchery, or licentiousness, as though sin and disobedience were now “okay.”  He has not come to set you free from the righteousness of God, but to bring you into the glorious liberty and genuine righteousness of God’s beloved children.

The righteousness of which your Lord speaks — and for which He sets you free — is not some quantity of stuff to be purchased or sold, earned, or traded on the stock exchange.  Nor is it a self-contained interior aptitude or disposition within you.  There is no genuine righteousness that exists or happens in isolation from the Lord your God and the neighbors He sets alongside of you.

The righteousness of Christ Jesus is the right relationship of sonship with His God and Father in heaven.  It is a relationship of faith and love, that is, to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and, for His sake, to love your neighbor as yourself.  Such living and loving proceed from within the relationship of sonship.  Because you are a son of God in Christ by His grace, so do you live as a son of God by faith in Christ Jesus, sanctifying His Name in your words and actions.

This is the righteousness that the Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished and fulfilled for you and for all people — from His Baptism to His Cross and Passion, and in His Resurrection from the dead, even forevermore.  His dying and His rising are the way and the means whereby you enter the Kingdom of heaven, and whereby you now also live with Him in His Kingdom in righteousness.

That means dying to yourself and your own self-righteousness, and rising to newness of life in Christ Jesus.  And that is to speak of repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins, which is not a mental exercise or a do-it-yourself program; it is to give attention to God’s Word, to make use of the Means of Grace, to remember and return to your Baptism by contrition and repentance, by confessing your sins and receiving Holy Absolution, and to receive and remember the Lord with thanksgiving in the Holy Communion of His holy Body and precious Blood.  And all of that is not the end, but the beginning — the daily new beginning — which emerges in a new way of life.

To affirm that your righteousness before God is by His grace alone in Christ Jesus — by faith in His Gospel — is not to say that it may be kept hidden away in your heart.  Indeed, it cannot be.  No, the righteousness of faith before God is manifest in love before your neighbor.  It is foolish to suppose that a Christian disciple of Jesus could be or live otherwise.

To refrain from love, to neglect your duties, to ignore or disobey the Commandments of God, is to deny and disavow your very identity as a child of God — like salt that is not salty, or water that is not wet.  It is to disown your Father and His Family, to run away from His Home, and to set yourself outside of His Kingdom and His righteousness in Christ Jesus.  It is to lose everything.

Where you have disregarded the Commandments of God, as though He had no authority over you; where you have hidden yourself away from your neighbors and their needs; where you have been concerned with lighting only your own path and progress, rather than enlightening your neighbor and glorifying your God and Father in Christ — I tell you now: Repent.  Return to the Lord your God, and live before Him by faith in Christ Jesus, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name.

If you are a Christian, live as a Christian.  As you are baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ — baptized into His Cross and Resurrection — die to yourself, to your sins, and to the passions of your fallen flesh, and rise with Him to live unto righteousness as a child of God.  And where you have not lived as a Christian, repent of your sins, return to the significance of your Baptism, and believe the Holy Gospel, that for Jesus’ sake you are fully forgiven and righteous before God.

It is by the mercies of God in Christ Jesus that you are His own dear child, named with His Name, anointed with His Spirit, a member of His household, and a royal citizen of His Kingdom.  That is who and what you are, by the grace of God, through faith in the Lord Jesus.  And the simple fact is that who you are and how you live belong together, hand in glove.  The righteousness of your life is an exercise and expression of the righteousness of your relationship with God in Jesus.

This is how and why it is that repentance and righteousness both result in new behavior, in keeping with the Commandments of God.  In Christ Jesus you are a new creation, a new person, a new man, woman, or child — not in isolation, not independent of other people, but within your relationship with God, and so also in a brand new relationship with all of your neighbors.  You think and speak and act differently, because, by the Word and Spirit of your God and Father, you have the heart and mind of Christ Jesus.  It is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you.

This is truly an amazing new reality, which you could not accomplish or achieve for yourself.  It is given to you by the gracious adoption of God.  You do not storm the gates of heaven with your good works, but you do good works of faith and love because the one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has called you to be His own, has brought you into His Home, and has established you within His Kingdom of grace.  Indeed, not only do you live with Him, but in Him; and He now lives and moves in you.

The Commandments of God, from the greatest to the least, describe this Life of God in human flesh.  It is the Life of His children, of His people, of His family, on earth as it is in heaven, because it is the Life of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, for you and for all.  It is the Life that is lived in His Kingdom, in which you now live by His grace through faith in His Gospel.  It is a Life that can be seen, which fills the whole House with the Light of Christ to the glory of the Father.

What shall your new Life in Christ look like?  Instead of using and manipulating your neighbor, set her free and serve her.  Instead of hoarding what you have and contriving to get more and more from your neighbor for yourself, share what you have, and use whatever God has given you to care for the people around you.  Instead of entertainment and personal pleasure, invest yourself in your relationships and in your actual callings, where God has stationed you.  Befriend and benefit your neighbor, rather than avoiding her.  Provide for both body and soul, with tangible gifts of money, food, and clothing, and with forgiveness for those who trespass against you, rather than holding grudges and harboring bitterness.  Be at peace with all people.  Let your gentleness and kindness be evident to all.  In the confidence of Christ Jesus, sacrifice yourself in order to serve others.

The great Mystery of His own Cross and Sacrifice is the culmination of His divine righteousness, the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets.  It is the righteousness of God Himself, acting entirely in Love, in accordance with His own divine nature and the very Being of the Holy Trinity.  It is the righteousness of perfect faith and love on the part of the Son for His Father — not hidden away within the inner Life of the Godhead, but manifested in His own Body on the Cross.

In this way He keeps the Commandments of God and brings them to completion, and He catechizes you to live in the same way: Not that you become the Savior of the world, but that you are crucified and raised with Jesus, and that you live now in righteousness and purity, in faith toward God, and in love for your neighbor.  His teaching and catechesis are by instruction and example, to be sure, but more than that, they are the living and active Word of His Cross, whereby He puts you to death and brings you to life in Himself.  His Cross, therefore, is not only your crucifixion, but also your Atonement and Redemption, your Reconciliation with God and neighbor, and your Righteousness forever in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  You live, because He lives.

This same Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is your Righteousness and Sanctification, who goes before you through death into life; indeed, He goes with you all the way.  He has opened up the way for you to enter the Kingdom of heaven.  Not only that, but He has become the Way, by which you have access even now to the Holy of Holies, to the Mercy Seat, and to God the Father.  So do you live as a child of God by faith in His forgiveness, by His Word and Holy Spirit.  And the same Lord Jesus Christ, who goes before you into Glory, also guards and keeps you on your right and on your left, and as your rear guard, to preserve you steadfast in His Righteousness and Peace, unto the Resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting of your body and soul in Him.

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