28 June 2020

He Who Dies by This Sword, Lives by This Sword

If there is a more difficult Word of Jesus than the one at hand in this morning’s Holy Gospel, I’m hard pressed to know what it would be.  It’s not that what He says is hard to understand, but it is devastatingly difficult to accept it and take it to heart.  A flash of steel, as it were, a cut and thrust, and just like that He has pierced your heart and separated the very marrow from your bones.  Yet, he who dies by this Sword, lives by this Sword.  And there is no other real life than that.

Perhaps you already have all the answers and know the score, as you suppose.  Be that as it may, this Word of Jesus still confronts you with a constant challenge, a daily crucifixion of your body and soul and your sinful life in this fallen world.  Quite apart from what you know, it is how you live and die that matters here.  Theoretical affirmations and the best of intentions won’t save you.

Who is your God?  That is the question.  Not the means that you enlist to achieve some other end, but the heart and soul, the center, and the goal of your whole life, what it is that you’re living for.

How do you measure and evaluate your life? — And if you think of yourself and your life as some kind of independent, self-existing entity, that is already the problem that puts you at odds with the Lord Jesus.  But what do you reckon as life?  A long and happy marriage?  Healthy and successful children, or your own good health and well being?  Property, savings, and investments?  Good times, good friends, and a good reputation?  A solid job with a significant title and description?

If you’re looking to find your life in any of these things, then you’ve already forfeited your life, whether you achieve your goals or not.  Then your heart is in the wrong place, longing for and clinging to the wrong gods.  And in countless big and little ways, your idolatry will show itself in the choices that you make between this and that, in the priorities you exercise from day to day.

If the decisive and definitive priorities of your “life” are anything other than Christ Jesus and His Word, then you are worshiping a false god; and if the Lord does not then cut you to the quick with His mighty Sword, you shall be left to die in your sins, in your false belief, despair, and shame.

But as this dear Lord Jesus Christ, the true and only God in flesh and blood like yours, in mercy calls you to repentance and puts you to death by His Word and Spirit, so does He bring you to life in and with Himself, both now and forever in body and soul.  You find your life in Him, already here and now by faith, and hereafter in eternity, in the Resurrection, by losing the life that you’ve been striving to find for yourself in the things of this earth.  “Finders, weepers. Losers, keepers!”

I know that sounds and seems all wrong, because all the ways that you think and feel are also being crucified and put to death, in order that you should be entirely recreated and made altogether new in both body and soul; that you should be granted the heart, mind, and spirit of Christ Jesus.

Until you learn to think rightly about God in Christ Jesus — which is more than knowledge in your head; it is faith in your heart; fear, love, and trust in Jesus above all else; and the discipline of your flesh by His Word — until you thus learn to think correctly about the Lord your God, you won’t be able to get anything else right, either.  It is not possible.  Then God’s good gifts will be idols or demons in your life, and you’ll bounce from one extreme to another until you perish forever.

The better the gifts, the more dangerous the temptation.  It’s not that the gifts are a problem; they are from the Lord, and they are truly good.  But so long as your heart and your head are all wrong, God’s good gifts will remain problematic for you.  At the very heart of your sin, you fear, love, and trust all the wrong gods — which are really no gods at all; they cannot give you life or save you.

It’s not only when you compromise Christ Jesus and your confession of His Name for the sake of your family and your place in the world.  It’s also when you attempt to “balance” Christ Jesus and His Word alongside your other priorities, as though He were merely one god within your pantheon.  There is to be no equal distribution of your affection, allegiance, and attentions.  You shall have no other gods before Him.  You shall have no other gods beside this one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Repent of your idolatry, and redefine your family values.  Whether married or unmarried, with or without children; widowed, orphaned, and distressed, or overwhelmed with too many people who depend on you — bow your head and bend your knee to no other name than that of Christ Jesus.  Whatever gifts He gives to you in this body and life, be they few or many, receive them in His Name, in faith and with thanksgiving, and use them under His authority, sanctified by His Word.

Practically speaking, you are neither to despise nor to depend upon your peeps and possessions.  You are simply to love your neighbors for Jesus’ sake; to exercise His good gifts to the glory of His Name, to the praise of His glorious grace; to watch and pray, as you wait upon the Lord and look to Him for Life; and to suffer all, even death, rather than deny, disregard, or disobey Him.

Die to the world, therefore, and to your own self-righteous pretense of life in this world, in order to be wed to Christ Jesus and to live in Him.  Is that not what the Lord your God has spoken?  That He should be your Bridegroom, your Husband and your Head, and that you should be a member of His Holy Bride?  So have you been named by His Name and adorned with His righteousness; that, forsaking all others, you should be joined to His Body — of one flesh and blood with Him.

Put yourself to death, and so live unto Christ, by taking up His Cross and following after Him.  That is repentance and faith — to be turned away from sinful unbelief to the mercies of the Lord in His Gospel of forgiveness.  It is to trust the promise of His Resurrection in the face of the grave.

It is to fear the wrath and displeasure of God, so that you flee from temptation and tremble at the very thought of breaking His Commandments; and so that you refuse to be swayed or persuaded by the disapproval, frowns, raised eyebrows, cold shoulders, or threats of peers and princes.  It is to love and worship the Lord Jesus Christ, to delight in His Word and the preaching of it, and to value His Gospel, His mercy and forgiveness, above and beyond all the praise and flattery of man.

This new Life, which is by faith in Christ Jesus alone, begins with and continues from your Holy Baptism in His Name.  But it is already the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name which brings you to such faith, and so also to the waters of His Baptism, that you should thereby die and rise with Him, and so live with Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

This dying and rising of repentance and faith, which is both accomplished in and signified by the water and the Word of your Baptism, is the labor and delivery of your new birth into a new family.  Therein you are named by the true God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ, adopted by grace as a beloved son or daughter, as surely as Christ is the Head of His Body, the Church.  Henceforth, by His Word, your heart, mind, body, and soul are animated with His living and life-giving Spirit.

This family and fellowship of the Holy Triune God is your permanent vocation and identity, which already now and forevermore defines and determines your entire place and life in this world and the next.  It is not what you do that determines what you are, but who and what you are in Christ Jesus determines what you do.  Thus do you live and love and serve in His Name and for His sake.

There is a readiness and willingness in you to lose all things and to let go of everyone else on earth, lest you let go of Christ and lose Him.  It is not your human family, nor your friends, far less your property and possessions, for which you “risk it all” and dedicate yourself “at all costs.”  But if you are called upon to put yourself in harm’s way, to defend and protect, and to lay down your body and life in self-sacrificing love for your neighbor, this, too, is in the faith and love of Christ Jesus.  And by the same faith, you are ready, willing, and able to risk losing your place in the world and your neighbor’s friendship, for the sake of the friendship of Christ and your place in His family.

Do you see, then, how everything in your life, your day-to-day decisions and activities, and your long-term commitments and pursuits, are all now governed by this entirely new set of criteria and priorities?  Not the ties of human flesh and blood, nor the aspirations and affections of this body and life, but the Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ, His Body and His Life, His Name, His Calling, and His affection for you and all the children of God — these guide and govern all that you do.

You live within a new household and family, which is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of the one God and Father of one Lord, Jesus Christ.  It is established here on earth, even here in this place, as it is in heaven, by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel of Christ.  He has told you where and how this gift is given and accomplished, and He has attached His Word and promise to this Ministry of His Gospel.  He says to the men who are sent in His Name and stead, “Whoever receives you, receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives Him who sent Me.”

Thus do you receive and welcome His prophets and His righteous saints in the Name of this Lord Jesus Christ.  And you care for His “little ones,” for His dear disciples of all ages and abilities, in all sorts of big and little ways, as you are so enabled by His grace — all for His Name’s sake.

In these servants of His, you receive Christ Jesus Himself and the gracious reward of His Gospel: Not a righteousness of the Law, but the righteousness of faith, which is busy and active in love.

It is not that you are worthy of yourself to love and serve the Lord Jesus.  But He is worthy of your faith and love, your reverence, and your trust — and He has called you to Himself by His Gospel.

In tender mercy and compassion, by His Word and Holy Spirit, He bestows on you His worthiness, His righteousness and holiness.  For His sake you shall live and by no means lose your reward.

Here and now, in the gracious hospitality of Christ Jesus your Savior, at His Table in His Father’s House, He presses into your hand and places upon your lips the pledge and promise of His grace, mercy, and peace toward you, and the surety of your place in the household and family of God.

If there is a more beautiful and comforting Word of Jesus than the Gospel that He speaks to you here at His Altar, I am hard pressed to know what it could be: “Take, and eat,” He says, “this is My Body, which is given for you.”  And again, He invites, “Drink of it, all of you,” as He pours out His Cup, the New Testament in His Blood, for you, His little one, “for the forgiveness of all your sins,” unto Life and Salvation with Him in both your body and your soul, forever and ever.

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

24 June 2020

The Preacher Prepares You for the Coming of Christ Jesus

The coming of Christ, the Son of God, is at once the most wonderful and the most terrible thing.

He comes as the true Light in the midst of deep darkness, in order to lead you out of Egypt by His mighty outstretched arm, to save you from sin and death, and to bring you into the Promised Land.

But how shall you receive Him?

The sad fact is that you cannot; not by any wisdom, power, strength, or ability of your own.  Your sin, which cuts you off and separates you from God, likewise prevents you from receiving Him and His salvation in faith.  What is more, by your sins what you deserve from the Lord your God is condemnation, punishment, and death.  For you are sinful and unclean, unrighteous, and unholy.  Therefore, you cannot abide or survive in His presence, nor can you stand in His judgment.

And yet, for all of that, it is with tender mercy and divine compassion that He comes.  It is by and with grace that He takes every initiative in coming to you with life and light and love and peace.

So then, in order to prepare you for His coming, the Lord raises up, calls, and sends a messenger before His face.  He sends a preacher to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins.  And in sending such a man to preach His Word, He sends one who is like Himself.  For the Lord Jesus Christ is the very Word of God in human Flesh; He has become true Man for us men and our salvation.

Already ahead of the Lord’s own miraculous conception and birth, you see the grace, mercy, and peace of God in the way that St. John the Baptist is conceived and born and given his name.  It is not by the reason or strength of his old man and his barren old mother, but by the grace of God.

St. John’s entire life, from even before his conception, and even while yet in the womb, is bound up with the coming of Christ Jesus and proclaims that.  That’s especially true of his preaching and his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; but it’s all about Jesus, it all point to Him.

Indeed, it is only by such preaching of the Word that you are prepared for Christ Jesus.  It is only by such preaching that you or anyone else can receive Him and respond to Him in faith and love.

Praise God for His preachers, for His messengers who go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way — who are sent to prepare you for His coming.  You would be lost without them.

But there is still a problem.  You can no more receive or respond to the preaching of the Word than you could receive the Word-made-Flesh Himself.  Your sin still gets in the way and prevents you.  The Law of God — by whomever it is preached — still condemns you and puts you to death.

You cannot live without Him.  But left in your sin, you could not live with Him, either.  Damned if you, and damned if you don’t, so long as you remain in yourself, in your own heart and mind.

The solution and salvation are not from within you, but from without.  The preaching of the Word of Christ accomplishes His purposes and saves you from sin, death, and hell; not by any power, response, understanding, or effort of yours, but only because Christ Jesus submits Himself to that preaching and fulfills that Word of God in His own Body and Life in your stead, on your behalf.

So it is that the Lord Jesus will hear and heed and respond to the preaching of St. John the Baptist, in order to accomplish and establish the righteousness of God for you and for all people.

It is especially in this way that St. John prepares the Way of the Lord.  He preaches the Law to which Jesus submits Himself in order to redeem you and all those who were conceived and born under the Law.  St. John preaches the repentance which Jesus undergoes by His voluntary death upon the Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead — whereby He opens the way of repentance to you.  St. John preaches and administers the Baptism of repentance, to which the Lord Jesus submits Himself in faith and love, so that, by the Lord’s own death on your behalf, your Baptism is for you the forgiveness of all your sins and a participation in His Resurrection from the dead.

The Word of Christ Jesus that is preached and given to you is a living and active and powerful Word, because it is a Word that has already been fulfilled and established forever in Christ Jesus.

Therefore, the preaching of repentance not only puts you to death, but it also raises you to life in body and soul, in heart, mind, and spirit.  It causes the Light to shine upon you, where previously you walked in darkness.  It grants you the new birth of the Holy Spirit, and it bestows upon you the Name of God by His grace.  It gives you that perfect peace which far surpasses all human understanding and achievement, because it is the Word of Christ who has reconciled you to God.

That is how and why the preaching of repentance is the preaching of forgiveness in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And such preaching does and gives exactly what it proclaims!  Which is to say that it calls you and brings you to faith and to life through the forgiveness of all your sins.

It is by this preaching of the Word of Christ Jesus that you are prepared for His coming and made ready to receive Him in faith and love.  But what is more, it is precisely by the preaching of His Word that Christ Jesus comes to you in love and visits you with tender mercy and compassion.

He remembers you with this preaching — not just with thoughts in His head and feelings in His heart, but with His whole Body and Life, His Flesh and Blood, His Words and His Actions.  So it is that He raises you up from death to life, and He brings you into His House, in order to feed you at His Table and to unite you with Himself in the New Covenant of His Body given and His Blood poured out for you and for the many, for the free and full forgiveness of sins.

This is a most precious Feast — though it may sometimes taste like locusts and wild honey in your mouth.  It sustains you in the wilderness of this world unto life in the Promised Land forever.  So do you continue to live and grow and become strong, by grace through faith in this Word of Christ.

It is this peaching of the Word of Christ which has opened your ears and your heart to receive Him, and has released you from all your sins, which also now opens your lips to show forth His praise, and looses your tongue to confess His holy Name, that His great mercy may be displayed in you.

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

07 June 2020

As the Words and Promises of God Declare

To be a disciple of Christ Jesus is to follow after Him in the Way that He has already gone before you, which is to say, in the Way of His Cross, in the hope and promise of His Resurrection and His Ascension to the Right Hand of His God and Father, where He ever lives as your High Priest.

As disciples are made by Holy Baptism in His Name and by the ongoing catechesis of His Word, so was the Lord Jesus Himself baptized for you and all people, for the repentance and forgiveness of the world, and for the fulfilling of all righteousness, so that you and all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve might be justified and saved from sin, death, and hell.

Just think of what the Baptism of Jesus signified and meant for Him.  In submitting to St. John’s “Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, including all of your sins of thought, word, and deed, every last one of them.  His Baptism did not make Him clean — He was already spotless, pure, and holy.  It rather saturated Him with all the dirt of fallen man, with all the filth and stench of sinful unbelief and disobedience.

He took upon Himself and bore in His own Body all your lying and cheating, your covetous lust, your cursing and dirty jokes, your laziness and negligence, your adultery and murder, your stealing, and your gossiping.  He took all of your sins — and every other sin from Adam to the close of the age — and He took responsibility for all of it, as though He alone were guilty, sinful, and unclean.

And His reward for this great work of divine and holy love was suffering and death.  Submitting to His Baptism meant committing Himself to be crucified, put to death, and buried.  Stepping into the water was, for Jesus, a return to the dust of the earth from which the first man had been taken.

For Christ Jesus as for you, His Baptism indicated that He should be drowned and die with all your sinful lusts and evil desires — in the place of your old Adam.

But that is not the whole significance of His Baptism.  For He also received the blessing of His Father and the anointing of the Holy Spirit there in the waters of the Jordan River, as the Pledge and Promise that His Father would not abandon Him to the grave nor allow His Flesh to suffer decay, but would pour out the Spirit upon His crucified Body and raise Him again from the dust of the earth.  And this Word and promise He received in your place, as your Substitute and Savior.

Of course, the Father and the Holy Spirit and immortal Life belong to the Son of God from all eternity, according to His own divine nature.  But in the waters of His Baptism — as the true and perfect Man, yet voluntarily bearing the curse and consequence of sin — He received the blessing of the Father and the anointing of the Holy Spirit as a pledge that in Him all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve would be redeemed and raised up in righteousness and holiness; that mortal flesh, after returning to the dust, would yet receive the Holy Spirit and rise up again to live forever.

Your dear Lord Jesus thus lived as you are called to live, that is, by faith in the Word and promise of His God and Father.  He proceeded from the waters of the Jordan in that holy faith, in love for His Father and in love for you and for all His neighbors of all times and places.  Against the devil’s temptations, He relied on God the Father’s sure and certain Word: “You are My beloved Son.”

In such faith and confidence He lived faithfully within His own vocation, and He carried out the works of love that belonged to His own office and station in life.  He honored His father and mother and submitted to them.  He loved His family and friends.  He ate and drank with sinners.  He healed the sick, and cast out demons, and raised the dead.  He fed the hungry with good food.  He taught the Word of God, preached the Gospel, confessed the faith, and prayed without ceasing.

And for this love and faithfulness, for the Name of the Lord that He glorified, He was persecuted, betrayed and arrested, falsely accused and mocked, beaten and blasphemed, unjustly sentenced to death, and crucified in public shame.  All of which He bore in peace and patience.  He persevered in love for all people, even those who were putting Him to death.  He forgave those who trespassed against Him.  He turned the other cheek, and He suffered His outer and inner garments to be taken from Him.  He did not retaliate, nor did He revile in return, but He relied on His God and Father.

So, if you find that your Christian discipleship is difficult and challenging, do not imagine that Christ Jesus is unaware of or unfamiliar with those challenges and difficulties.  Even His family and friends did not know what to make of Him or what to do with Him.  They misunderstood Him and wanted all the wrong things from Him.  The rulers of the people were jealous and hateful of Him, and conspired against Him, and stirred up the crowds to cry out for His death.

You do not have a Savior and High Priest who is unable to sympathize with you, but One who has been tempted and tormented in all the ways that you are, who has borne all of your sins as though they were His own, and who has shared all your suffering, sorrow, sickness, shame, and death.

Although He is the Son of God from all eternity, nevertheless, in human flesh and blood just like yours He learned the faith and the obedience of sonship through what He suffered in your place.

He learned, not as though He were ever ignorant or naive, but by the way of personal experience, by living your human life as you are called to live, first hand, in His own person.  He did so, not out of intellectual curiosity, as though for some kind of experiment or science project, but in order to establish divine sonship for you in human flesh and blood.  So did He also receive and bear the Spirit of God in His truly human flesh and blood for you and your salvation, in order that your fallen flesh might receive and bear the same Holy Spirit and be raised up to eternal Life with God.

The Lord Jesus Christ thus lived by faith in the Word and promise of His Father.  He lived in the hope of His mercy by the grace and guidance of the Spirit.  He did what His Father called Him to do, and He spoke as His Father gave Him to speak.  In steadfast faith and flawless love, He was handed over to the Cross by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, and He humbly accepted the same, submitting His human will to the divine Will in the hope of the Resurrection.

It is there on the Cross — on the one hand enduring the condemnation of the Law that He perfectly fulfilled, and suffering the separation of sin from the Father He loved and trusted, while on the other hand continuing to trust and believe His Father’s steadfast love and faithfulness — it is there that He permanently established divine sonship for you.  So that, even in the midst of your sin and in the face of your death, the promise of the Gospel and the Sabbath Rest of Christ remain for you.

He has weathered the perfect storm in order to bring you safely through it in and with Himself.  He has endured the inner conflict of the Old Man and the New Man in His own Body, even unto the death of His Cross.  And though sin and death were crucified and put to death in Him, He has prevailed in faith and love, and He has been raised up by the Spirit of His Father as the new and better Adam, as the First Fruits of the New Creation, as the Head of His Body and Bride, the holy Christian Church, in order to be the Firstborn of a great multitude of divine sons and daughters — called and gathered from all the nations, from every tribe and tongue and culture and ethnicity.

Having thus received the promised Holy Spirit from the Father in His Resurrection from the dead, He has poured out the same Spirit generously upon you in the waters of your Holy Baptism.  Not only that, but He continues to pour out the Spirit upon you in the Absolution of the Gospel, in the Word of forgiveness that is preached to you, and in the Spiritual Food and Drink of His Supper.

He has also given you the Word and promise of His God and Father, that you are a dear son of God in Him, beloved and well-pleasing to the Father; that all of your sins are freely and fully forgiven; that God has reconciled you to Himself in Christ; and that, even though you die, yet shall you live.

In this Gospel of Christ Jesus, the Father moves toward you in love, and He gives Himself to you, and He embraces you to Himself as a beloved child, always raising you up from death to Life, from out of darkness into Light, and from the dust of the earth to be a living creature in His own Image.

You are raised up in and with Christ Jesus to live and move and have your being in Him: To move in love — within Him, and through Him, by the Holy Spirit — unto His God and Father in heaven.

That Life in Christ and in the Holy Spirit — that movement of your body and life toward God your Father in heaven, as a living sacrifice — that true faith and worship of the Father in the Spirit and the Truth — is lived from your Holy Baptism through death and the grave into the Resurrection.

It is by the way of the Cross, not for the sake of gratuitous violence or suffering, but in order to work in you a genuine sacrifice of repentance, faith, and love.  So that you, who are a son of God in Christ Jesus by His grace, may learn the faith and obedience of sonship in Him.  And so that sin and unbelief and all their deadly fruits may be crucified and put to death in you.  And so that you, in bearing the Cross for your neighbor, might love your neighbor as the Lord Jesus loves you.

That way of the Cross — which is the way of Christian discipleship — is difficult and challenging, make no mistake about it.  Indeed, it would be utterly impossible for you apart from Christ, if He had not gone before you and established that way in faith and love, in His own flesh and blood.

But now Christ has lived that life for you, and He has gone that way of the Cross for you, and He has died that death for you.  He has borne your sins and suffered all their consequences.  He has atoned for all your sins and reconciled you to God.  This is most certainly true.  So God has also raised this same Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and exalted this beloved Son at His Right Hand, and placed all your enemies beneath His feet, crushed and defeated beneath His wounded heel.

That is how and why He pours out His living and Life-giving Holy Spirit upon you through the Gospel of His Cross, raising you daily from death to Life.  It is for this reason that He has called and sent His servants, not only to baptize you in His Name, but to catechize you with His Word, and to commune you with His Body and Blood in remembrance of Him, with His own authority.

These Gifts Christ freely gives are the First Fruits of His Cross and Passion.  And the same Tree of the Cross bears good fruits in you after its own kind.  The Cross bears such fruits in you, even as it is crushing and killing the old Adam in your heart, mind, body, and soul.  Do not suppose that He is out to get rid of you, but remember what His Father has spoken to you in Holy Baptism:

“You are My beloved son!  With you I am well-pleased.”  I am not angry or upset with you.  I am not out to punish you.  Your sins are all forgiven.  You shall not die forever, for whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.  “This promise is for you and for your children.”

Bind that Word and promise of the Father to yourself — to your heart, mind, body, and soul — by giving attention to the ongoing catechesis of Christ Jesus.  Listen to the preaching of His Word, and know that it is preached to you as a sure and certain Word of Life.

Better yet, take to heart that He has bound Himself to you, and that He binds you to Himself, by His Word and Spirit, Flesh and Blood, and by His divine and holy Name.  Just as He has promised, He is with you always, even to the close of the age.  He shall never leave you nor forsake you.

As He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever at the Right Hand of the Father, so does He bear the good fruits of His Cross in you: Forgiveness of sins, received and given; faith and love and self-sacrifice, but also resurrection and newness of life — day after day by His grace, unto the Resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting of your body and soul with the Holy Trinity.

Christ has died, and Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  And by the power of His own indestructible Life, He enlivens you with His Word and Holy Spirit, both now and forevermore.

As you are baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so surely are you a beloved and well-pleasing son of God in Christ Jesus, by His grace, through faith in Him.  His Cross and Resurrection, His Spirit, His Father, His House and Home, and His whole Body and Life are yours.  So has He taught you to pray with the confidence of a dear child to your own dear Father.  And so does He invite you to recline here at His Table, that He should feed you with His holy Body and His precious Blood, from His own hand, for the forgiveness of your sins and Life and Salvation.

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

31 May 2020

The Ways and Means of the Spirit of Christ Jesus

It is no wonder that you are thirsty.  For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Your lips are parched, your throat as dry as dirt, until God waters your soil with the living Waters of Christ Jesus, and so fills your body of flesh and bone with His Life-giving Holy Spirit.

Here then is your Eden, your Paradise on earth, your Oasis in a desert wilderness.  For here, from the wounded side of Christ, from His innermost being, by the divine Glory of His Cross and in His Resurrection, the Lord pours forth the Holy Spirit like water into your thirsty soul.  This Spirit is the Water of Life from the Rock of Ages, cleft for you.  It is for this Drink that you have been created, and nothing else but this Gift of God Himself will quench or satisfy your thirst.

It is for this purpose that God has come in the flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And the Son receives the Spirit from His Father in His own Body of human flesh and blood — in the waters of His Baptism and in His Resurrection from the dead — in order to pour out the same Spirit of God upon all flesh.  He receives and breathes the Spirit as true Man, that you might drink of the same Spirit and live forever with the Father in His Son.

So has the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ caused His Church to be planted and to prosper in this place, in order to pour out the living and Life-giving Waters of His Holy Spirit upon His people at Emmaus.  In fact, it was on this date in 1922 that His disciples at St. Paul, South Bend, first met and began making plans for the beginning of this congregation in the following year.

But you know as well as I do that there are plenty of nearby alternatives, many of them attractive and enticing with promises of life and health and success.  And the truth is that you are tempted and prone to sample whatever is on tap — to belly up to the bar and have a round — as often as you try to quench your thirst with other “waters,” other beverages of choice, and other “spirits.”  Maybe it’s too much of God’s good gift of alcohol.  But I’m not talking only about drunkenness or alcohol addiction.  It could just as easily be bottled water and a health food diet that you make into your personal well spring, in the hopes of saving yourself and securing your body and life in the world.  It is whatever you rely on to satisfy your thirst, to wet your lips and whet your appetites, to fill the empty hollow in your belly — even though any other water than the Spirit of Christ Jesus will not enliven your flesh but will leave you dying of thirst, like trying to live on salty sea water.

Repent of such foolish idolatry, which is not only sinful but deadly.  Rather, come to Christ and drink freely and fully of the Holy Spirit, whom He pours out generously, without measure and without cost, for all who believe in Him.  When you drink of Him, not only do you have abundant life with God in both your body and your soul, but then you are also able to receive, to use rightly, and to enjoy the good gifts of His whole creation.  When your thirst is quenched and you are filled with the living Waters of the Holy Spirit, then, whatever your own beverage of choice may be, and whatever your diet is like, you eat and drink in faith and with thanksgiving to the glory of God.

The Spirit who proceeds from the Father in the Son is the Author and Perfecter of Life.  He is worshiped and adored with the Father and the Son, because He is one and the same true God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them.  He bestows the true beauty of divine Wisdom in the world, as He gives growth and good order to all of creation; and by the Word of the Gospel of Christ Jesus He establishes the Church, the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

Come to Christ, therefore, and drink of this living and Life-giving Spirit of God.  Not by your own wisdom, reason, or strength, but where and when and how it pleases God, in the ways and means whereby the Lord reveals and gives Himself to you and pours out His Life-giving Spirit upon you.

It is by faith in His Word that you come to Christ.  For the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, and by the preaching of the Gospel He brings you to Christ Jesus, even as He lays this same Lord Jesus Christ upon your heart, mind, body, and soul, with His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

Come to Christ by hearing and heeding His Word, which is preached to you by His Spirit in His Church.  For the Church is the Body of Christ, the fullness of Him who fills all things; and the Spirit of His God and Father rests and remains upon His Body. His Church is the true Mountain of God, which surpasses both Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion.  Here is the Tabernacle of God among men.  Here is the Temple of the Holy Spirit in the one Body of Christ Jesus, in His Means of Grace.

By your Holy Baptism you are united with Christ in His Cross and Resurrection, and you receive the Holy Spirit in the external bodily means of water and the Word, as Christ received the Spirit in bodily form as a dove at His Baptism.  So, too, you come to Christ and drink of His Spirit as often as the Lord returns you to the remembrance and significance of your Holy Baptism by way of repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins, especially by His Word of Holy Absolution.

What is more, the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus are your Spiritual Food and Drink, given and poured out for you in the Holy Communion.  Here at His Altar you come to Christ and receive Him and His Holy Spirit, as He comes to you and gives Himself to you by His Ministry of the Gospel.

As you are thus taught by the Gospel in Word and Sacrament to know and love the Lord your God, to believe in Jesus Christ and come to Him, and to receive and drink deeply of His Holy Spirit, so do you also pray, praise, and give thanks in the Name of Jesus.  You confess His Word and call upon His Name, and you are saved.  For the Lord is merciful to all who call on Him, even as He has taught you and invited you to pray to Him in Peace, in the confidence of His Resurrection.

The teaching of this Word of Christ is not random or haphazard.  It is beautifully arranged and laid before you, just as all of creation is ordered according to God’s glorious grace and wisdom, by His Word and Holy Spirit.  The Gospel is unfolded for you in the story of Christ Jesus in the Flesh, in the pattern and progress of the Church Year: from Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, through Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, into the ongoing Life and work of Christ in the Time of the Church.  Not only the stuff of creation, but the hours, days, weeks, and years, and all the seasons of your life on earth, are sanctified by the Gospel of Christ Jesus, by the Holy Spirit in and with that Word.

Thereby, within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, the prayer of Moses is answered in the Body of Christ Jesus.  That is to say, the Spirit of the Lord is poured out upon all flesh, and He rests upon all of the people of God, because Christ has been glorified by the Father in His Cross and Resurrection.  So it is that you and all the disciples of Christ Jesus are taught by God, by the Gift of His Spirit.  And you speak the Word of the Lord, confessing what He has spoken to you.

Still, there is an ordering of the Church’s life in Christ.  All are one, and all are equal before God in the righteousness and holiness of Christ Jesus; for there is one Lord, one Spirit, and one God and Father of all, one faith, one Baptism, and one Body of Christ.  Yet, the unity, equality, and harmony of His Body, the Church, is not that of undifferentiated sameness, formless and devoid of character.  No, the Kingdom of God is ordered and arranged, like the artistry of the human body, like the genius of God’s good creation, with a great variety of different gifts, a wondrous panoply of sizes, shapes, and colors, of sights and sounds, and of beautiful contours and textures.

Not all are Moses.  Not all are ordained elders in the Church.  Not all are pastors and teachers, bishops, or deacons.  But there is a diversity and distribution of the many gifts of the one Holy Spirit.  There are different offices within the life of the Church, each of which bears the necessary graces of the Spirit for the fulfillment of God’s holy will and purposes.  With such a variety of “voices,” with such a multiplicity of “languages,” the one Holy Gospel is confessed and is heard in all the world, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down.  So also here at Emmaus.

It is for this faithful confession of the Word of Christ Jesus that all Christians, with all their vast array of differences in personality, ability, interests, and skills, are each and all anointed and filled with one and the same Holy Spirit.  So are they united to one another within the Holy Communion of the Body of Christ.  Not to erase or eradicate all differences between them, but to give life to the entire household and family of God in Christ, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name.

Those who are thus given to drink of the Spirit of Christ, who are filled with such living Waters of the Lord, become springs of living Water and fountains of the Spirit for others, each of them within his or her own callings, in his or her own particular office and station in life.  So, also, each one of you, in your own place, is a fountain of living Water for your neighbors in the world.  And Emmaus is a part of that, too.  Not a mirage, but a true oasis in the desert, despite any appearances or experience to the contrary.  For the Word and Spirit of the Lord flow out from this holy place.

It is in, with, and under the Cross that such Waters spring up in you and water the earth; for it is by the Cross that Christ Himself is glorified, and by and from His Cross that the Spirit is given.  Your place in life, your words and works, are consequently despised by the world — and by the fallen old man in yourself and others, too.  Taunts of drunkenness are leveled at you.  Even the New Wine of Christ, His holy and precious Blood, is blasphemed and disregarded in this way.

But do not be dismayed, and do not give up hope or grow weary of doing good.  The Lord Himself is with you in, with, and under His Cross.  As you are thirsty, come to Him and drink.  You belong to the Kingdom of God, and the Spirit of God rests and remains upon you in Christ Jesus.

Blood and Fire and Vapor of Smoke, the Pillar and Cloud by night as by day, and all the signs of the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus — these are not a denial or contradiction of God’s Kingdom here with you; they are signs of His Power and His Glory and of His gracious Presence.

The Kingdom of God has been established in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.  Not only once upon a time, nor only here and now, but forever and always.  His Body abides for all the years yet to come, even to the close of the age, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, anointed by the Spirit in His own Body of flesh and blood, is the fulfillment and perfection of the Lord’s Old Testament Liturgy of grace, and so also God’s ordering of time and space.  He is the true Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed for you.  His Blood has redeemed you, it marks your door to guard and protect you from death, and it is poured out upon your lips and tongue and down your throat to quench your deepest thirst.  And His Flesh is given you to eat for the freedom of forgiveness and faith.  The same Lord Jesus Christ is the true Pentecost, the Firstborn from the dead, the Firstfruits of the New Creation.  His Body and His Blood are the Atonement by which you are reconciled to God, received by the Father, and able to rejoice in Him who is your Lord and Savior.  For He is the Tabernacle of God who abides with you, and you with Him, from the wilderness into Canaan.  He breathes the Spirit of Life into your body by His Word of the Gospel, and He pours out the same Spirit from His side in the Water and the Blood, in order to cleanse and refresh you within and without, in your body and your soul.

All of this that He has done for you and for all people was promised and prepared for by the times and epochs ordained by the Father in the Old Covenant, in the pilgrim festivals that He instituted through Moses.  But now they have been accomplished in Christ Jesus, and they are bestowed upon you in the Sundays and Seasons of the Church Year.  Not as a new Law, but as the Gospel, from Jubilee unto Jubilee, in the gladness, joy, and righteousness of the Resurrection.  This Lord’s Day — and every Day of Grace — is shaped, defined, determined, and filled by the Word of Christ Jesus, and thereby sanctified by the Holy Spirit as your true Sabbath Rest in Him who loves you.

So, then, although you do not know when that great and final Day of Judgment will come upon all flesh, the fullness of the time has come and is here for you in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

Here is the last, great Day of the Feast: The eternal Eighth Day of the Resurrection and of the Life everlasting.  The Lord has brought you thus far by His grace, by His Word and Holy Spirit, to believe His holy Word and live a godly life here in time and hereafter in eternity.  And according to His steadfast loving-kindness, He feeds you here and now with His Spiritual Food and Drink.

Are you hungry?  Take and eat the Body of Christ.  And you who are thirsty, come and drink the Blood of Christ, poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

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

24 May 2020

Welcome Home to Your Father in Christ Jesus

Where do you live?  Where do you find your life?  Where is your home?  They say that “home is where the heart is.”  So, where is your heart?  What is it that you love, and where do you reside?

As a Christian, your heart and your home are with Christ Jesus, already here and now within His Church on earth, because He is here for you with His Word and Holy Spirit.  It is in and with Him that you live, by His grace, by faith in His Gospel, the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

Of course, that was true for Judas, too.  He was a disciple of Jesus, baptized with the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of his sins, and communed by the hand of his Lord.  He had a place in the Lord’s House, a place at the Lord’s own Table.

But Judas turned aside and went to his own place.  He gave up the place that he had been given with Jesus, and he took back his own place in a field of blood, a place to which he returned by the path of his wickedness, because his heart loved money more than Jesus.  He saw to that himself.

Whatever excuses he made for himself, whatever rationalizations Judas used to justify his choices and decisions, they resulted in despair and death.  It would have been better for that man, our Lord Himself says, if he had never been born.  That is a sobering word and a serious call to repentance.

You also have been baptized and given a place at the Lord’s Table.  But where is your heart?  Where is it that you live?  And where are you headed?

What is it that you cling to and chase after?  What is it in your life that you love more than Jesus?

Maybe it’s money, as it was for Judas.  Maybe you’re desperate to keep what you have.  Or maybe you’re convinced that, if only you had more, then you could be happy, then you could really live.

But maybe it isn’t money at all.  Your idols and temptations may be altogether different.  Maybe for you it is leisure time, or being able to travel and take nice vacations.  Or maybe it’s popularity, perhaps that is the false god for which you would be willing to sacrifice your place with Jesus.  Maybe it’s your family, your house of brick and wood, or your hobbies and entertainment.  As if any of these things mattered or made any difference at all apart from Christ Jesus.

The tragic fact is that your sinful heart is characterized by a wanderlust that is so easily bored with Jesus and desperate for something new and exciting.  Something better.  Something you can take and keep for yourself.  So you are tempted by your own covetous lust and desire, tempted to turn away from the Lord your God, to go to “your own place,” instead of living and abiding in the place that Christ Jesus has graciously gotten for you and given to you by the Ministry of His Gospel.

Thankfully, though, in spite of all that, the heart of God is turned toward you, and His great heart of love is still wide open to you in Christ Jesus.  He desires nothing so much as your salvation and your eternal Life with Him.  He does not covet riches.  Indeed, your Lord Jesus did not count His equality with God a thing to be grasped; though He was rich, for your sake He made Himself poor, that you might inherit the riches of God in Him, and live with Him in His Kingdom.

For the sake of His divine and holy love, the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, has come down from heaven.  He has left His own place in order to descend into the depths of your place of sin and death.  He has made His bed in your field of blood, and He has slept in it, so that, in His bodily Resurrection, you also are raised up from death and the grave in and with Him.  And in His Ascension you are carried to the Right Hand of the God who is now your Father in Christ Jesus.

The Son of God has come down, in order to take you up.  He has left His home, in order to fetch you back to the Home that He has prepared for you with His Father in heaven.

You get a glimpse of how He has accomplished this great salvation if you consider St. Peter’s preaching and catechesis to those one-hundred-twenty disciples in Jerusalem.  In choosing a new Apostle to take the place of Judas Iscariot, the potential candidates needed to be eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life from His Baptism in the Jordan River to His being taken up.  For it is especially from His Baptism that Jesus began His great good work of bringing you and all the people back to God.

There in His Baptism, as He descends into the water, He is already lowering Himself down into the depths of your sin and death.  And as He comes back up, He raises you up with Himself.

Already in His death upon the Cross He is lifted up, in order to draw all men to Himself.  For it is by His Sacrifice that He atones for the sins of the world and reconciles the world to His Father.

And so it is that He is lifted up in His Resurrection, and He is lifted up in His Ascension to the Right Hand of God, where He ever lives to intercede for you in His Body and with His Blood.  And where He is, there you are and ever shall be, also, both body and soul, in and with Him.

He has blazed the trail for you.  He has come down to where you are, so that, in His lifting up, you are lifted up to be with Him where He is.  By and from His Baptism, He has entered into your house of death and doom; and by His lifting up on the Cross He has turned everything around for you, and He has brought you with Himself back to His own God and Father in heaven.

All of this that He has accomplished is given to you in Holy Baptism.  It is given to you by the Apostolic Ministry of the Gospel — that Ministry which began with Christ Jesus Himself, and then continued with His holy Apostles, with Peter, James, and John, and then also with Matthias.  By the grace and mercy of God, that Ministry of the Holy Gospel goes out to all the nations, to the ends of the earth, even to the close of the age, to make disciples by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus, by the catechesis of His Word, and by Holy Baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, just as He has spoken.

You share the Name and Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the beloved Son, because you are baptized in His Name and with His Word and Holy Spirit.  You are a Christian, because Christ has anointed you with the Spirit of God, and He has named you with His own Name — the Name that is His from God the Father from all eternity, which He has also received as true Man in His own Flesh.

He has been given that divine and holy Name in His Flesh, in order to bestow that Name of God on you.  Thus do you bear the Name of Christ in your flesh, in your body and soul, both here and hereafter, and thus are you a Christian, a disciple of Christ Jesus, a child of His God and Father.

By your Baptism you also share His Cross, and sharing His Cross you share His Resurrection and Ascension, His Father, and His Spirit.  Everything that belongs to Him, He now shares with you.

Sharing His Cross, you share His Life and His Glory, His Home and Family.  When you suffer for the sake of Jesus, when you bear the Cross in your callings and stations, when you are persecuted for the very name of Christian that you have been given to bear — in all of this you are glorified with the Glory of Christ Jesus.  You share His Glory, the Glory of the Father manifested in Him, which is the Glory of His Cross and the sure and certain hope and promise of His Resurrection.

The Cross and suffering are certainly not enjoyable or fun.  That is not what the Glory of God is all about.  The Cross and suffering are painful and difficult, and it is only by the grace of God that you endure to the end and are saved.  But as you share the Cross and suffering of Jesus, He teaches you and trains you not to become too friendly or familiar with this perishing world of sin and death.  His Cross and suffering teach you not to fear, love, and trust in that which does not last.

If your heart abides in the world, then your heart makes it bed in the dust of the earth.  But when your heart abides in Christ Jesus by faith in His Word and promises, then your heart is already in heaven — and that is where your body and your soul shall be also in the Resurrection at the last.

It is in Christ Jesus that you live, no matter where on earth you may be.  Your true home is not here in this world.  Yet, even here and now, the Lord Jesus Christ — who has overcome this world with all its trials and tribulations — He is with you always.  He is with you in your suffering, especially in that which you suffer for His Name’s sake, as you bear the Cross for the sake of His Gospel.

It is in Christ Jesus that you are already at home with your Father in heaven.  You already live and abide there with God in Christ Jesus, even while you are still on your pilgrimage here on earth.  Here you are a stranger in a strange land.  You are still on your homeward journey through the wilderness.  But in Christ you have already reached your goal.  There is no doubt as to the ending.

Because He has become and is your Good Shepherd, so are you a sheep of His pasture.  So does He feed and nurture you in peace and safety.  He leads you beside the quiet waters.  He keeps you in your Baptism.  He pastures you with His Word.  He feeds you with Himself at His own Table.

Believe that it is so, and do not let your heart be troubled.  Be at peace, for you are in Christ Jesus.

In all of your going out and coming in — with all that you say and do — confidently bear the Name that Christ has given you to bear.  It is your Father’s Name.  It is your Patronymic.

Wherever He has sent you to serve His household and family here on earth, confidently bear that Name with which He has so graciously named you.  In your vocations you are firmly established within His household.  You are not far away from Him, because He is ever near and close to you.

And as often as you wander away from Him — as often as you get yourself lost because your eye latches onto something in this world and leads you astray — as often as you return to your own place, instead of remaining in the place that Christ has gotten for you and given to you — turn back, and come home.  Repent.  Be lifted up with Christ Jesus, your Savior, by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  For He has built His House, and He has established a place in it for you — a place that He keeps on giving to you by the preaching of His Gospel of forgiveness.

Do not let your heart be troubled.  Do not be afraid.  Do not despair when you consider your sin and shame.  Though you may be lost, Christ is still near.  You shall not die homeless and alone.  For here you are already home in Christ.  Here you already live with Him and with the Father.

You live here in His Church, because your sins are all forgiven by His Word.  Your feet are firmly planted in Christ Jesus, and your heart is safely hidden with Christ in God.  “Welcome home.”

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

21 May 2020

Living the Heavenly Life with God in Christ Jesus

Whether your life is hellish or heavenly depends, not upon your location or your circumstances, but entirely upon the faith in your heart and the god on which you depend.  If your heart clings to Jesus Christ and abides in Him, then your life is heavenly and divine, already now in your body here on earth.  But if your heart fears, loves, and trusts in gods other than Christ, then your life is a hellish and damnable “living death,” which can only go from bad to worse.

It’s not that your body of flesh and blood is problematic or a prison; neither is it the material world of God’s good creation that imprisons you.  Rather, it is your sin and death, idolatry, and unbelief that drive you into fear and dread and sheer despair.  Thus do you perceive even your God-given vocations and your holy stations in life to be burdensome, tedious, and irksome, painful and unfair.  And as such, it seems to you that God the Lord is not the Sun that warms and lights you, but a cruel and demanding taskmaster, your judge, jury, and executioner.  So, too, you do not love and serve your neighbor, but you hate him, despise and resent him, hurt and take advantage of him.

How, then, shall you ever be able to escape from such a hellish prison?  How shall you learn to worship the Lord your God in reverent fear, love, and trust, instead of trying (vainly) to run away from Him in dreadful terror?  How shall you break out of that maddening downward spiral, in which you’re always fleeing but never able to evade the threat of death and eternal punishment?

How shall you cling to Christ Jesus in faith, hope, and love, and so rest yourself in Him?  How shall you rise with Him, and live in Him, and abide with Him in the bosom of His God and Father?

As impossible as all of this appears to be, rejoice, give thanks, and sing!  For all of this has been accomplished for you, and it is freely given to you here and now, by your Savior, Jesus Christ.

He is not far away or far above you, but He has brought you to God in Himself, even as He draws near to you with God.  He has done so by His Incarnation, by His Holy Cross and Passion, by His bodily Resurrection from the dead, and by His Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father in His own human flesh.  And He continues to do so by way of His Church and Ministry of the Gospel.

He has entered into the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens, as your great and merciful High Priest, as your Anchor behind the Veil.  There He lives and abides in the presence of God in flesh and blood like your own, even as He feeds your body and soul with His Body and Blood here at His Altar in His Church.  So it is that, where and what and who He is, you are also, by His divine grace, through faith in His Gospel.  God and man, heaven and earth are no longer far apart and separated from one another, divided by sin and death, but they are perfectly reconciled and united in the Body of Christ Jesus.  You find your heavenly life in Him, therefore.

True, there is a right and wrong way to lay hold of Him on earth, as demonstrated in the contrast between Mary Magdalene and Thomas in the stories of the Resurrection.  Ironically, it was faithful Mary Magdalene who attempted to lay hold of Him in an earthly way at first, from which she was dissuaded when He pointed out that He was ascending to His God and Father; whereas doubting Thomas was given to lay hold of Christ Jesus in the sacred wounds of His Cross and Passion, that is to say, within His means of grace — the Word and Flesh and Blood of His Gospel — which Thomas and the other Apostles were then sent to preach and administer in His Name and stead.

Here, then, first of all, even in the midst of your doubts and fears, in spite of your sins and failings, the Lord Jesus lays hold of you in His mercy, with the grace and peace of His forgiveness, by the preaching of His Gospel, and by the administration of the Fruits of His Sacrifice upon the Cross.

That is how and why it is that, already here and now in your mortal body of flesh and blood, you live a heavenly life in the presence of God.  In and through Christ Jesus, your High Priest, you worship God in His Temple, in the midst of His Jerusalem, His Church on earth as it is in heaven.

Christ Jesus Himself is the Incense and the Prayer of His Body and Bride, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  So is He also your Incense, your Prayer, and your Worship, whereby your body, soul, and spirit are received by your true God and Father in perfect peace and love and joy.

Likewise are you given to receive the same Lord Jesus Christ into your body of flesh and blood, and to live and abide in Him by faith in His Word as you go about your callings here on earth.

The truth remains that He is not far from you.  Lo, He is with you always, even to the close of the age, and even to the ends of the earth.  As you go about your life, therefore, be not far from Him.

Do not attempt to live your life on earth apart from the Gifts Christ freely gives to you here in the midst of His Jerusalem — the Gifts of His Gospel in Word and Sacrament — whereby He bestows the Gift of the Holy Spirit whom He promised from the Father, which He has first of all received for you in His own crucified and risen Body (in your stead and on your behalf).

As He does indeed pour out His Spirit generously upon you here and now, know that He Himself abides with you and lives in you, in order that you should live and abide with Him, both now and forever, in the glorious presence of the Holy Triune God.

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

17 May 2020

To Live and Love in God’s Love for You in Christ

The Lord your God has created you for life, and He has created you for love.  That is how you are made.  It is what you are here for and who you are to be.  Your existence and your being are from God, and so there is a presence and a movement about you that belong with Him.  You live best when you live toward Him and move in harmony with Him.

When you are apart from Him, away from Him, or at odds with Him, you are and will be restless, out of sorts, and afraid.  Your heart will be searching and longing for Him, whether you know it or not, and it will never be satisfied, at peace, or at home, until you are found in Him and are living in Him.  Otherwise, your heart will grow cold, bitter, and hard, and you will be angry all the time, or despairing; arrogant and proud, or eaten alive with envy and jealousy.

Driving everyone else away and retreating into yourself doesn’t work, and it won’t help.  Nor does using and controlling other people.  Neither lonely isolation nor lording it over your neighbor will gain you the peace and satisfaction that you crave.  These are ways in which you try to be like God, and you make a god out of yourself, but they are not the divine life at all, nor anything like it.

The one true God never has and never does exist in lonely isolation, but is a perpetual communion of three divine Persons in perfect unity, an eternal relationship of mutual Love.  And it is for the sake of that divine eternal Love — the Father for His Son, the Son for His Father in the Holy Spirit — that He created all things in peace.  Not out of necessity or need, but solely out of Love.  Not to be served, but to serve, to give good gifts by grace, to love His creatures with fatherly affection.

You have been created — you exist, and you are here — to live with God, and to be loved by God.

He does indeed love you.  He has done so all along, from before you even were.  He has created you in love, and He loves you still.  The Father loves you in His Son and with His Holy Spirit.  Therefore, in His love you are like God, and you live God’s life, because God the Son has bestowed God the Spirit upon you, and He brings you to God the Father in and with Himself.

This true divine Love in Christ Jesus is the character and content of the true divine Life for which you have been created, and to which you are called.  Therefore, in the same way that your heart and mind and body and life are restless until they rest in God, so do you also long for love from your innermost self.  You long to be loved — and you are created by God to love others, as well.

As the Father loves you in His Son, so are you called to love the Father in Christ Jesus.  And as the Holy Spirit lives in you — who is Himself the very God who is Love — so are you called to love the Father and the Son, and to love your neighbor as you are loved by the Holy Triune God.  To love in this way — to love both God and man — is fundamental to the life you are given to live.

But the problem is that, while you have been created for love, and so you have a built-in inner hunger and deep desire for love, your heart and mind and soul and spirit have been bent, turned backwards, curved inward upon yourself.  Which is to say that you are consumed with self-love, which is not really love at all but selfishness and self-idolatry.  That is your most basic sinfulness.  You do not really trust any love but your own, and you are not really concerned about love for anyone but yourself.  And so the whole beautiful capacity for love for which you are created, has become instead this crushing insatiable appetite of lust and greed and jealousy and spite.

Oh, to be sure, you may love those who love you — with a certain kind of love — but there’s always a condition, a contingency, a contract, so to speak.  What’s in it for you?  And how can you best protect your own interests and yourself?  How can you be safe and secure and certain that you won’t be hurt or taken advantage of?

Knowing your own selfishness, even if you would hardly admit it, you don’t trust others to love you any better than you love them.  On the one hand, you must work for their love and earn it; and on the other hand, you must guard yourself against betrayal and treachery.  Selfish love is never free, and it is never certain.  But selfish love is all that you have ever known apart from Christ.

It is the sort of love that you expect from Christ Himself, as well, and from His God and Father.  For as you make a god out of yourself, so do you also assume that God must be like you, and that His love must be like yours.  That is the way of the world and its thinking, yes.  But the world does not see God or know Him.  Consequently, you strive to win His love, to bargain and barter for it, to work for it, to earn it, and then to horde it for yourself, as though others could rob you of it.

It is such a sad dilemma, because your heart cannot be happy or have any lasting peace apart from the love of God, but you are so mistaken and confused about the nature of His love.  You long for it, but you do not trust it, and you do not know where to find it or how to get it.  In fact, a love that you would have to work for and earn would be no real love at all.  That sort of love will never satisfy, but will only stoke the burning fire of your selfish desire and leave you desperate for more.

Longing for God’s love, therefore, but neither knowing nor trusting that He loves you, your heart is embittered toward Him, angry and resentful, but also hurt and afraid.  You perceive (wrongly) that He demands so much, and that He gives so little in return; and so you are scared, and you grow tired, and you don’t know what to do.

You can’t win this game, but there’s nothing you can do about it.  You’re playing by all the wrong rules, but you are not able to sort it out for yourself.  You’ll have no peace or rest or satisfaction until you live with God and abide in His love, but His life and love are foreign to your fallen nature and your sinful flesh, as elusive and beyond your grasp as they are to the world.  They sound like impossible demands, which accuse and condemn you and drive you to despair and death.

So you fill your life with countless idols, and you erect your monuments of every kind to hedge your bets.  You’re as religious as you know how to be, captivated by whatever comes down the pike having any hint of spirituality, and still always craving something new, the next big thing.

You’re always searching for “the unknown God,” the One who will love you and give you life, who will save you and keep you safe.

But now, in spite of all that, you do know Him, don’t you?  You know the God of love, who is your life and your salvation.  Not because you have figured Him out and found Him on your own, but because He has found you and reveals Himself to you.  You know His Voice in His Word of the Gospel.  And though you do not see Him with your eyes, you love Him because He first loves you.

In His divine and perfect love, He has not forced Himself upon you, nor does He force or constrain you to love Him.  In gentleness He has come to woo you to Himself in peace.  In mercy He reveals Himself to you by His grace, and He makes Himself known to you through His forgiveness of your sins.  He gives you life by giving His own life for you, and by raising you up in and with Himself.  He does not accuse you or condemn you, but He comforts you and heals you.  He teaches you to know and trust His love, simply by loving you.  He gives you Himself and His Spirit freely.

His commandments, therefore, are not burdensome and deadly, but life-giving.  He does not set before you the righteousness of the Law and of works as a means of getting life for yourself, as though He were calling you to raise yourself up by some new and better effort on your part.  Nor does He offer you a “tit-for-tat,” “you-scratch-My-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours” kind of bargain.  The Lord does not learn how to love from you, nor is the love of God contingent or conditional upon your love for Him.  Rather, what does He command?  “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  It is first of all the case that He loves you, even in this world of tribulation, even to the end.  He has come to you in love, and He will not leave you.  He gets down on His knees to serve you, to cleanse and forgive you, to feed you, and to quench your thirst, in order to give you Life.

It is because He loves you — because He loves you so faithfully and so well — that you love Him, and that you love one another in His Name and for His sake.  His New Commandment is, in one respect, the same Law of Love that you have heard from the beginning, as He also commanded from Mt. Sinai.  But it is made brand new by His own fulfillment of that Law in His perfect love for you.  In Him it is not an order, a demand, or a threat, but an assertion of the Life that is given you to live — the divine Life, which Christ has lived for you in the flesh, that you may live in Him.

It is still true that you cannot raise yourself up to live and to love in that way by any wisdom, reason, or strength of your own.  But then again, it was never the intention that you should.

You have not been created to live independently or self-sufficiently, but to live in and with God, by His grace, through faith in His Word.  And you have been rescued and redeemed from your sin and death, from your selfishness and lonely isolation, not to live unto yourself, but unto Christ.  That is why the character and content of your life in Christ is Love.  Not that you achieve or gain that divine life by your loving, but that you now live that life which He has given you in His love.

To speak of this life and of this love is to speak of the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, crucified and risen from the dead.  For you know God, His Life and Love, in this dearly-beloved and well-pleasing Son of the Father.  He has loved you by coming and giving Himself for you.  He has loved you by taking all your sins upon Himself and bearing them in His Body to the Cross, making atonement for them by His death, by the shedding of His holy, precious Blood.  And in His Resurrection from the dead He now loves you by raising you up with Himself and bringing you to the Father in Himself.  That right there — His Resurrection and Ascension — is the life to which He calls you, which He now also gives you by His grace by pouring out His Holy Spirit upon you and into your heart through the Gospel.  That is how He loves you, and that is how you now live.

Likewise, even now, your Baptism saves you, as day by day it raises you up from death to life in and with Christ Jesus.  It cleanses your conscience before God through the Resurrection of the same Lord Jesus Christ, through whom you are justified.  For as He has given Himself for you and died for you bearing all your sins, His Resurrection is your resurrection.  His Resurrection is your righteousness.  And His Resurrection is your reconciliation with God the Father in heaven.  More than that, the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the sure and certain proof that God loves you.

In His Resurrection, and so also in your Holy Baptism, you are recreated, and you are made brand new for life with God and for love.  That is the hope that is yours, and is most certainly true, which is given to you in the Gospel, in the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  Not one of them remains.  Not one of them is counted against you.  Not one of them is seen by your Father who loves you.  And as the Father thus loves you in Christ Jesus by and with that Gospel, so do you sanctify the Lord Jesus Christ in your heart, and you strengthen your heart, by the same Gospel.

If you are afraid — if you are ashamed — if you are embarrassed — if you are guilty — if you are hurting — if you are sad — if you are angry — if you are tired — listen to the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins, and hear and receive the Love of God in Christ Jesus.  It is for you.

Because you are loved by the Father, by the Son, and by the Holy Spirit, you have and you live the life for which you have been created, and you are free to love without fear.  You know such love, and you know the one true God who loves you, because He comes to you here, and He gives Himself to you, and He abides with you here at His Table in His House, unto the Life everlasting.

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