21 January 2023

Happy New Year from the Stuckwisch Family!

The Rick & LaRena Stuckwisch Family, as of 30 December, A.D. 2022

Happy New Year!  (A "guest post" from my lovely and talented wife, LaRena 😇)

It is a bit challenging to write a little “family update” or “Christmas letter” when everything is in transition and changing. But we are not fortune tellers, and these sorts of letters are supposed to highlight the past year, not the future. So, here is my stab at a “short and sweet” version. 

2022 started out fairly normal with the routine hectic pace and occasional chaos. It’s a bit of a blur, even in retrospect: Our new grandson, Jerome, spent some scary time in the hospital being thoroughly poked and prodded, but came out of his ordeal and ended the year strong and healthy.  Moreah and Ariksander announced that they were expecting baby #2 (our 17th grandchild, born and baptized in December). Frederick won the overall “Grand Prix” award at the Indianapolis Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition and was invited to the national finals in Tampa, Florida, where he made it to the final round and received several generous offers from ballet schools and companies. (This letter may be too heavily weighted with “Frederick”/ballet news, but that’s because the author, LaRena, also works at the ballet studio.) After the spring ballet performance of Cinderella, we enjoyed a wonderful family vacation in the Smokey Mountains. We could feel the winds of change on the horizon, but we savored each day “in the moment.”   

Soon after vacation, the winds of change swept in at gale force. At the convention of our Indiana District (of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod), Rick was elected to the office of  District President. While we had known that was a possibility, some of us at home were not fully aware or prepared for what that would look like for our family. In short, Rick does a lot of traveling, as the “District” includes 235 congregations in Indiana and Northern Kentucky, while the office and headquarters are located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a couple hours from our current location. Rick has been living in a dorm on the Seminary campus during the week and traveling home to South Bend on weekends. He visits churches, attends meetings, and even made a trip to Israel. 

The “living-at-home” children and I are still in our house in South Bend, but we are gradually preparing ourselves for big transitions this year. I have been working for Southold Dance Theater as a greeter / “security” door person and often as a costume aide. But Frederick and I will both “graduate” from Southold, so to speak, with the production of “Giselle” in June. At some point (probably in August), Fort Wayne area house shopping and packing will begin in earnest. For now, I shuttle children to work and other activities, go to work, myself, try not to look too foolish in adult ballet class, do CG virtual workouts with trainer-son Zachary, feed people and clean up, and am excited to try my hand at making a tunic/costume for Frederick. Homeschooling has been on auto-pilot this year, which is a bit concerning for me. 

Justinian is enjoying his work at Great Lakes Heating and A/C as an installer and taking night classes for electrical work. Not only is his work a rewarding career, but our home life has been “rewarded” with his knowledge as well. Justinian may become the homeowner of our South Bend house, so he has been working on many improvements. Several projects are underway in anticipation of Ariksander and Moreah’s family moving to join our household in February. An egress window in the basement and one complete bathroom remodel are currently in the works. Justinian has been blessed with friends who also have handy skills and are generous with their time, so the house is getting some much needed attention! 

This past year, in addition to dancing, Frederick also completed his driving practice and got his drivers license. He finished the year strong as the Nutcracker Prince for Southold here in South Bend, and then danced multiple roles, including “Nutcracker Prince,” “Sugar King,” and “Snow King,” as a guest artist in North Chicago. Frederick leaves for Lausanne, Switzerland, at the end of January, to participate and compete in the Prix de Lausanne, a big dream being realized! It is a great honor to be seen and receive instruction from world wide ballet master teachers, meet some of the best dancers in the ballet world, and watch the “Gala” performance before returning home! It is sure to be an experience of a lifetime! After returning home, he will have this year’s YAGP competitions (March & April), “Giselle” as his senior performance at Southold (June), and then some kind of big transition to launch his dancing career. We trust it all to God’s providence. 

Gerhardt has been a good and faithful worker at “The Coffee Spot” here in South Bend, and now has the distinction of being the employee on staff longer than any of his co-workers (other than the owner and his family). He would like us to invest in a restaurant style espresso machine and frother and a Panini grill. Maybe he’ll have to start a food truck business in Fort Wayne! “G” was able to purchase a computer for his gaming passions with his job earnings. He has been pretty diligent with his school work and helps his siblings out with various projects, caring for nieces and nephews, and he can be regularly found in the kitchen at home, doing dishes. He especially appreciates time with his friends and his brothers as often as those opportunities arise. 

Katharina is in the full throes of “teendom,” having turned thirteen this past February. As much as possible, her daily life is accompanied by the playlist of her favorite tunes. She manages some school work, sings in choir, and especially enjoys time with her friends, whether in person or chatting online. She participated in a ballet class and took an acting/song/dance class with the Civic Theater over the summer, and was confirmed at Emmaus in the fall, so it was a big year for Katharina. Now she is busy packing up her bedroom and shifting her belongings in order to give Ariksander’s family her bedroom and bathroom. She will move to Justinian’s bedroom (and he will move downstairs to the basement as the egress window project is completed in a few days). 

Our married children and their families give us so much joy, and each of them would require an additional epistle in and of themselves. Perhaps I can include tid-bits about their lives in a future address-update newsletter.

How many miles will Rick drive this year? Where and when? We do not yet know.

Where and when will we be moving? We do not yet know. 

Where and when will Frederick be launching his career? We do not yet know.

Where and when will Gerhardt and Katharina be studying after this spring? We do not yet know. 

Where and when will our family be all gathered together again? We do not yet know. 

What we do know is that we are all in God’s hands, and that He continues to provide generously for our family. We are thankful for His bounteous care and look forward to His wise providence in the months to come.

God be with you in this New Year!

01 January 2023

God’s Covenant in Flesh and Blood

You know that it was not Abraham who chose God.  It was not Abraham who first called upon God, but rather God who called upon Abraham.  When he was living in a foreign land with his family, and though his family was worshiping idols, the Lord our God called Abraham to Himself.  He called him by name, and He gave him promises.  He called him to go to a place that Abraham did not yet know — yet, he heard and believed that Word of the Lord.  By the grace of God, he was a man of faith, indeed, the father of all who believe and trust in the Name of the Lord.

The promises that God gave to Abraham by His grace and mercy, for peace and life, were not only for Abraham, nor only for his own immediate children, nor only for his own descendants after the flesh.  Rather, God called Abraham, and blessed Abraham, and gave Abraham promises, and sealed those promises with a Covenant, also for your sake, and for all the nations of the earth; that all might call upon the Name of the Lord, who has mercy on all who call upon Him.

When God gave Abraham the Covenant of Circumcision, it was to seal with certainty the promise that God had given, the promise that He would fulfill in the Flesh and Blood of His own Son, born from the family of Abraham in the fullness of time.

What made Abraham faithful and the father of all who believe was the faith in his heart, which was by the Word and Spirit of God.  But even aside from Abraham’s faith, there would be given, from his own flesh, his own Seed, the Savior, who is Christ Jesus.

And so this Covenant of God with Abraham is given in his very flesh.  And it is utterly absurd.

God does such very strange things.  That Abraham and his sons, and all of his many sons who would come after him, should have a portion of the skin from their genitals cut off; and this would be God’s Covenant with Abraham and his family!  That is very strange.  It is painful.  It causes embarrassment and shame.  It causes blood.  And yet, this is God’s Covenant, sealed in flesh and blood, and attached to Abraham’s body, as surely as God’s Word should be held within his heart.

Among Abraham’s descendants there would be those who walked in the faith of their father, and those who did not.  But even Abraham himself was not always in all things faithful.  Nor Judah.  Nor David.  Those men of God lived by faith, by the grace of God, but it was God who always remained faithful to them and to His Covenant with them.

So from Abraham’s family there would come the One who fulfilled this Covenant of Circumcision, this Covenant of God’s gracious blessing, His promise that from Abraham would come a Blessing for the nations.  It was attached to the flesh of this family, until it should appear in the Flesh of God Himself, conceived and born of Mary, and on this Eighth Day circumcised according to the Law.

The Law itself was God’s Covenant with the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with the sons of Israel.  For having brought them out of Egypt by His powerful arm and with His outstretched hand, He established His Covenant with them, again with flesh and blood, that is, the blood of bulls and oxen, there at Mt. Sinai.  There God appeared to them, and He sealed His Covenant with them with that blood which was sacrificed.  Not their own blood in this case, for they were spared, but blood nonetheless.  It is by blood that God forgives sins, and with blood that He gives life and salvation.

Thus, with blood He sealed His Covenant with Israel at Sinai, and He gave them His holy and righteous Law to set them apart.  As Abraham was set apart, both in his heart and in his body, so was Israel set apart to live by faith and by love.  Their lives and relationships would testify to the presence of God among them.  For they would be distinct from all the nations of the world.  They would worship the Lord in fear, love, and trust.  They would hear and heed His Word and call upon His Name.  They would be holy and perfect, as the Lord their God is holy and perfect.

So it was that He gave them His Law to discipline their flesh, to show them the way they should live and walk before Him.  But in this way, it also exposed and made clear their sins.  And it never would be fulfilled in the lives of the people, but only in the Life of Christ, who is God in the Flesh, in whom the Law is most surely written and fulfilled and completed.  Hence, even in showing them their sins, the Law also described that One who would be their Savior, the One who lives in perfect faith toward God and in perfect love toward both God and man: the Son of God, Christ Jesus.

It is to Christ that the Law has always pointed, and it still does.  True, the Ten Commandments per se were given to Israel, as part of God’s Covenant with those ancient people.  But those same Ten Commandments summarize the good and gracious Will of God, what is His good and acceptable Will, also for you.  In showing you how to live, His Commandments guide you in the way of faith and love.  They point you to your neighbor, that you should serve your neighbor as the Lord your God serves you.  And His Ten Commandments are also your tutor, pointing you to Christ Jesus.  To be sure, you are not under the Law in the way that ancient Israel was, for Christ has come, and you live under grace by faith in Him; but the Law does tutor your flesh in this poor life of labor.

A tutor in the ancient world was a trusted household slave who would take the children of the family, the sons of the father, and lead them to and from school, and help them with their lessons, and make sure they learned what they needed to know in order to live, in order to receive and use their father’s inheritance rightly.  So the Law serves this purpose for you.  It is your tutor.  It is not your salvation, but it points to the One who is your Savior.  It trains you in the way that you are to go in order to inherit the Treasures of your Father in heaven by the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

You are no doubt familiar with the way that we Lutherans have confessed the Ten Commandments, that they function as a mirror, as a curb, and also as a rule or guide for those who are reconciled to God in Christ, for those who are redeemed and righteous by faith.  The Ten Commandments are a tutor in this way.  They show you how to live.  And I suppose that is fairly easy to understand when it comes to loving and serving your neighbor.  You are not to hurt or harm your neighbor in his body, his possessions, his family, his income or reputation.  Rather, by your words and by your actions, you are to help your neighbor in all of these aspects of life.  Help him to protect his body.  Help him to keep his stuff, his wife and children.  Help to defend his name among his neighbors.

But the first three Commandments also serve as your tutor.  And this, not for your neighbor’s benefit, nor for God’s protection, as though you were going to hurt or harm Him.  No, the first three Commandments rule and guide and tutor you for your benefit, for your protection.  They direct you and even require you to do those things which are for your own good before the Lord.

Those first three Commandments direct you to look to the Lord your God; and in that command there is the certainty that He desires to hear you.  They command you to hear His Word, because it is by His Word that He gives you grace and every blessing.  It is by His Word that He names you with His own Name.  And because He has named you with His own Name, the way in which you speak and the way in which you live are a confession of who your Father is, of who your God is.

So the first three Commandments command you — with all your heart, with all your mind, with your body and your voice — to fear, love, and trust in the one true God above all things.  Not because He needs you, but you need Him.  He calls you to Himself in love, because He is your Life and your Salvation.  It is by faith that you receive all of His gifts.  It is in prayer that you call upon Him.  And it is with His Word that He serves you and answers all your prayers and all your needs.

His Word, ultimately — from before the foundation of the world, and even into eternity — the Word of the Lord is the Son of God, your Savior, Jesus Christ, whom the Father has given in the flesh and blood of Abraham.  He is the Seed of Abraham, the promised One in whom the nations of the world are blessed; in whom you also are blessed through the forgiveness of all your sins.

In Christ Jesus the Covenant that God established with Abraham has been satisfied and fulfilled.  And not in some abstract, general sort of way, but this Son of God, Christ Jesus, born of Mary, actually receives in His own flesh, in His own genitals, the Covenant of Circumcision.  He bleeds.  He hurts.  He suffers, already as an Infant, in keeping with the Law of God, which neither Abraham nor any of His other sons or daughters, nor you, could have kept or fulfilled.  But Jesus does it all.

Already as an Infant, and into His childhood, and into His manhood — throughout His Life, even unto death, and in His Resurrection from the dead — He has kept the whole entire Law of God.  Every jot.  Every tittle.  Every Commandment, He has kept.  And all that you have broken, He has repaired and rectified in His own Body, by His innocent suffering and death upon the Cross, and in His glorious Resurrection.  He has atoned for all of your sins by the shedding of His Blood.

In perfect faith and love He has lived.  In perfect faith and love He has died.  And so it is that, by His Cross and in His Resurrection, He has redeemed you from sin, death, the devil, and hell, and He has reconciled you to the Lord your God in His own Body, in His own Flesh and Blood.

This incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, is the Lamb.  He is the One whom God the Father has provided for Himself in the place of Abraham’s beloved Isaac.  He is the Lamb who is given in place of all the sons of Israel, while God humbles Pharaoh under His thumb.  He is the Lamb who is given for the sins of the world.  He bleeds and dies that you might live.  And He feeds you with Himself, with the Passover Feast of His own holy Body and precious Blood, so that you may live.

Not only that, but everything that He has done and accomplished, for you and for all people, has also been given to you by His Word and with His Name in the Sacrament of your Holy Baptism.

St. Paul calls Holy Baptism the Circumcision made without hands.  It is the Circumcision of your heart, mind, and spirit.  It is the Circumcision worked by the Word and Spirit of the Lord, who cleanses you, who purifies you through the forgiveness of your sins by the blood of Jesus Christ.

In the dying and rising of Holy Baptism, it is not only that the Law disciplines you by the way of the Cross, but all the more so does the Gospel forgive you by the Cross and in the Resurrection of the Lord.  It does so by laying Christ Jesus on your heart with the gift and promise of His grace; and not only on your heart, but on your flesh.  For the Word of Baptism is combined and included with the water of Baptism that washes over your flesh and cleanses you inside and out.  It cleanses your conscience before God, and it cleanses your flesh for the Resurrection unto everlasting Life.

In Holy Baptism, the Name of God, which Jesus has received and bears forever in His own Body of human flesh and blood, has been given to you in your flesh.  It has been written by His Cross and with His Blood upon your forehead and your heart, upon your body, soul, and spirit.  So, then, in the Resurrection of your body you shall be glorious in Christ, and you shall see Him as He is.

You are named by God.  And with His Name God has given you Himself.  And with Himself He has given you His Life.  You belong to Him.  You are a child of Abraham by faith in this God.  Even better, you are a child of God in Christ Jesus.  You are an heir of the Father.  You are a son most beloved.  Everything He has belongs to you.  With His Name He has given you everything.

With His Name, through the forgiveness of all your sins, He has cleansed and purified your heart.  He has also cleansed and purified your lips and your life in the flesh, so that you are able by His grace to sing, to pray, and to keep the Feast at all times and in all places, to the glory of His Name, because you belong to Him.  You are in Christ Jesus.  That is your identity.  That is your sonship, be you boy or girl.  That is your salvation of body and soul, here in time and hereafter in eternity.

All thanks and praise be unto God through this Savior, Jesus Christ, who has fulfilled God’s holy Law and given you Himself in peace and love, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

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

26 December 2022

After the Pattern of Christ Jesus

St. Stephen was content and at peace, even as he was being put to death, because he had fixed his hope on the living God.  He wasn’t searching for the meaning of life, because it had already been made known to him by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.  He wasn’t confused about his place and purpose in the world, because he knew himself to be a child of God in Christ.  And he wasn’t nervous or afraid about tomorrow or the next day, because he lived by the grace of his Father.

That explains the striking contrast that we find in the story of Stephen: On the one hand, his fierce and forthright preaching of the Law, and on the other hand, his gracious prayer of forgiveness for those to whom he preached as they were stoning him to death.  He demonstrates the bold courage that characterizes the martyrs of our Lord Jesus, but also the charity and compassion of Christ.  He has the strong confidence and passionate conviction, not of harsh anger, but of faith in the Gospel.

In particular, Stephen knew and trusted that he had a dwelling place with God, because God had made His dwelling place with Stephen in Christ Jesus.  The holy martyr knew that he would be with Christ, with the Father in heaven, because the same Lord Jesus Christ was with him in his suffering and death.  He knew that heaven was his home, and that heaven had been fully opened to him by the Cross and Resurrection of the incarnate Son of God.

The Lord has just as surely done the same for you, as well.  He has become Flesh for you.  He has given Himself for you, even unto death.  He has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven for you, also.  And yet, He also remains with you here in His Church on earth, in His very own Flesh and Blood, with His Word and Holy Spirit.  Behold, the Tabernacle of God is with you here.

What Moses was shown and what he saw on the Mountain was a Type of that incarnate Lord, Jesus Christ, and the Tabernacle that Moses made by God’s direction was according to that holy pattern.  It served the people of God in the wilderness as a means of grace, a proclamation of the Gospel, because it pointed to what has now been accomplished and fulfilled in the Son of Mary.

He is the new and better Joshua, who brings God’s people out of the wilderness into the good land that He has promised, defeating all their enemies before them.  And He is the new and better David — the Son of David who is greater than Solomon — the true King of Peace and holy Wisdom — whose own Body is raised and established as the true Temple of God.  That is to say, not a house for God to live in, as though He were otherwise homeless, but a House in which you live with God.

In Him, by your Baptism into Him, His God and Father is your God and Father.  You bear His own Name and Holy Spirit, because you are born of Him, and you have your Life in Him, and you are a member of His family.  Your house and home are with Him, safe and secure, now and forever.

For Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, has become your Brother in the Flesh and your Savior from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He is your merciful and great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.  His sacrificial death is your Atonement and Redemption.  His Resurrection from the dead is your reconciliation and your righteousness with God.  And His Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father is your own happy homecoming, your peaceful resting place, and your Salvation forever.

That is why you can be strong and courageous, like St. Stephen, in doing your job and saying forthrightly what is good and right and true, even when it is painfully difficult, woefully unpopular, and poorly received.  You fear the Lord, because He alone is your true God and Father, but you need not be afraid of any mortal man.  No one can rob you of your Life with God in Christ Jesus.

Along with such courage and confidence, you are also able to be compassionate, kind, and patient, even when you deal with hurtful and unpleasant people.  To be sure, your kind compassion may require the preaching of the Law and the call to repentance, according to your office and vocation.  But such a preaching of repentance — as when the Lord persisted in sending the Prophets to His people of old, and in the case of St. Stephen — is neither vindictive nor mean-spirited, but aims at warning the neighbor of danger and calling him back to the Lord. 

So, too, when you must warn your neighbor, do so in love — truly to rescue him from danger and to lead him to life with yourself — and not out of any anger, defensiveness, fear, or vengeance.

After all, you know that you are safe.  Your life is secure.  You need not guard yourself so fiercely.  God has opened His heaven to you in Christ Jesus, as fully and freely as He did for St. Stephen.  Indeed, through your Holy Baptism you have already died with Christ and entered into Life with God in Him.  That is how sure and certain your Life and your eternal future are and ever shall be.

Dear child of God, you know that for Jesus’ sake your true Father in heaven loves you; that He is pleased with you and delights in you, regardless of what anyone else may think or say or do.  And you know that all of this is solely by His grace and mercy; that He is compassionate, kind, and patient with you — long-suffering, slow to anger, and full of nothing but steadfast love for you.

Therefore, as Christ has given Himself for you and given you His own Life by the Gospel, and as He has become your Righteousness and your Salvation, so is He your Strength and your Song — your Confidence and Courage, on the one hand; your Charity and Compassion, on the other hand.

So it is that you become like Him.  Which is also to become like St. Stephen, who was recreated in the Image and Likeness of God, after the pattern of Christ Jesus, by his own Holy Baptism.

Therefore, you also live, you suffer, and you die, as Stephen did — like Christ — by grace through faith in the Gospel.  That is the only power and poise that you will ever need.  And it is yours!

You have the Tabernacle of the Testimony here in the wilderness, that is to say, the preaching of the Gospel.  That is the true wisdom and eloquence of the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, calling you daily to repentance, unto faith, through the forgiveness of all your sins.  It cleanses you and clothes you with the Blood of the Lamb; as in your Holy Baptism, so also in the Holy Communion.

The saints who have gone before you, especially the holy martyrs like St. Stephen, are another kind of “Tabernacle of the Testimony,” because they have lived in their own flesh and followed by faith the same pattern they were shown in Christ Jesus.  And you, in turn, follow the same pattern as a living testimony to your neighbor, so that your neighbor may then see the Son of Man in you.

Be Thou faithful unto death, and He will give you the crown of Life.  That was His sure and certain promise to St. Stephen (whose name means “crown”), and His promise to you is no less sure and certain.  Indeed, it is already a “bird in the hand,” because your dear Lord Jesus Christ, the very King of heaven, has already crowned you with His own royalty and righteousness by the Gospel. He has crowned you with Himself and with His Glory, having made of you His royal Bride, His Queen.  And as He spoke by the Prophet Isaiah, you are a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord.

You are another Stephen, by virtue of your Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And as He did for that holy Stephen, for whom we give thanks and praise to God this day, so does He also bring you through the waters of your Baptism into the heaven He has opened to you by His own Baptism.  He will bring you through death and the grave into the Life everlasting, as even now He brings you through the great tribulation into His own Resurrection and Ascension.

Already you live with Him in God, by grace through faith in His Gospel, because God tabernacles here with you in Him, that is, in His Flesh and Blood and in His Word of forgiveness.  For that dear Lord Jesus binds together in Himself, forever, both God and Man, both heaven and earth.

Here at His Altar — and so also from this Altar into the world in your calling and station, even through the wilderness — you live before the Throne of God; you live and abide in His Temple.

Your sins are all forgiven.  Forgive those, also, who trespass against you.  For you are righteous and holy before God and precious in His sight for the sake of Jesus Christ.  As He has risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever at the Right Hand of His God and Father, so shall you not die but live.  Does He not feed you with His Body and pour out His Blood for you to drink?  Yes, He does.  He sees to it that neither His Word nor His Table are neglected in this place.  Therefore, you lack nothing, nor shall you ever lack for what you need.  Your sure and certain hope for Life and Salvation are here for you in the forgiveness of your sins and in the Meat and Drink of Christ

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

24 December 2022

A Light in the Darkness for You

You may not be a shepherd, but you do have your own watch to keep — your own flock to guard and protect, to feed and to care for, and your own field in which to abide.  You have the duties of your office, the responsibilities of your particular station in life.

But whether you work the day shift or at night, evenings and weekends, or on call 24/7, you live and work in the midst of a deep darkness.  And sometimes that darkness looms and grows and thickens to the point where it threatens to swallow you up completely.  Left alone and afraid in the darkness, unable to see which way to turn, you may not see any hope for tomorrow.  In the dead of the night, when you cannot sleep — or when your sleep is assailed with nightmares — it does not appear that the sun will ever shine on you again.  No matter how many lights you turn on, no matter how many watts you burn, the darkness crowds upon you, and you can’t turn back the night.

Really, though, I’m not speaking so much about the natural darkness that comes with the setting of the sun at the end of each day.  Indeed, the darkest hours aren’t always at night.  Nor is the darkness only on the outside, surrounding you.  There is a deeper darkness within you, gnawing away at you and eating you up from the inside-out.  It is the native darkness of your fallen old man, the darkness of your heart and mind, beclouded by sin, ignorant of God, tempted to wickedness and evil on the one hand, but then also accused, ashamed, and afraid, on the other hand.

That is the darkness which blackens your thoughts and feelings and makes it impossible for you to see or perceive anything clearly, even at high noon.  You live, as it were, always at night, always in the dark.  You do your job and tend your sheep, but you do it like a hireling; you despise and resent the flock, you grumble and complain.  You run away and hide, on the inside at least, when push comes to shove.  You work without joy, because you have to, in order to make ends meet, and you count the hours, the days, the weeks, and the years until you can finally be done with it all.

When you care for the sheep with no other goal than caring for yourself and meeting your needs, then the darkness emerges from within you in the form of self-preservation and self-protection, and it descends upon your heart and mind in the form of fear, desperation, and finally despair.  That is the darkness which would eventually consume you altogether, dragging you into the long dark night of death and the grave and eternal damnation.

Except that, now, the true Light has come.  The same true God who caused the Light to shine out of the darkness in the beginning, has caused the Light of His Glory to shine upon you by His grace.  He’s doing it right now, as a matter of fact, in the middle of this dark night, in the midst of all the darkness in this fallen world.  As always, it is by and with His Word that His Light shines for you.  His Word is the Light, which is preached to you, that you might see God and have Life in Him.

This Light of the revelation of the Glory of God is scary in its own way.  When you’ve been in the dark for so long, you know how it is — the light hurts your eyes.  And when you’ve been hiding in the darkness, doing what you should not and neglecting what you should, then having the lights suddenly flipped on might well freak you out and make you sore afraid.  For the Light exposes the deeds of darkness and makes it clear that you have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.

Then again, when you’re lost in the dark and looking for the light, it can seem like the Light of the Lord has been overcome by thick clouds and deep shadows.  For the irony and paradox of the Cross, which is the Hour of God’s Glory in Christ Jesus, is that it appears completely otherwise.

Because it is the Light of the Cross that shines upon you in the Word of Christ, your life on earth is not all blue skies and sunshine, but overcast and overshadowed, maybe even dark and cold and dreary.  The days are short, your nights are long.  And when all the excitement and celebration of the holidays have come and gone, the presents have been opened and put away, the decorations taken down, and even the leftovers have all been eaten, there will still be your job to do, your studies to resume, and either the frenzy or the boredom, the loneliness or chaos of your life.

And the prospect that nothing will ever change or get any better may be your greatest fear of all.

But to each and all of you I say, Fear not.  For right here, right now, I bring to you good news of great joy.  This is a Word of Peace, not only for shepherds “once upon a time,” but for all people, and so also for each and all of you.  These glad tidings are preached to you as you keep your watch, tend your sheep, and abide in your field by night as by day.  This message rings out to the ends of the earth, and so also here it is spoken and heard, confessed, prayed, and sung.  It is proclaimed for you, first of all, but in such a way that you are also able to speak it and sing it for others.

This Word of the Gospel is full of great joy, because it meets your deepest needs, delivers you from death, and gives you true and everlasting Life with God.  It is comfort and Peace.  It is Light in the darkness.  It is rescue and relief, protection from danger, tender care, and free Salvation.

It is unto you that a Savior has been born.  He is your Savior, and so He comes for you here and now, right where you are.  He is born “in the same country,” that is to say, not Palestine per se, nor the U.S.A.  Neither Canada, Tanzania, Russia, or the Ukraine.  But all of the above, in the same country and commerce where men and women live and work, the tangible world of sunshine and rain, of eating and drinking, waking and sleeping.  The Lord has been born for you into all of that.

He has come, not simply to be with you and keep you company as you go about your days and nights, but to be your Savior — to save you from all that darkens your world, and from all that brings death into your life.  He comes to do it by His Cross, by submitting Himself to the darkness of death and the grave, allowing Himself to be swallowed up by them — and then triumphing over them and swallowing them up, once and for all.  The darkness does not overcome Him — indeed, it cannot — and so it is dispersed by Him who is the Light.  Death and the grave cannot hold Him, because death is actually defeated by His Death.  So He has risen, and He shall never die again.

As death no longer has any lordship over Him, neither shall it be allowed to rule over you anymore forever.  For your Savior, Christ Jesus — born into the House and Lineage of David, a Man after His Father’s heart — He is your Shepherd and your King.

Even a little child knows that a Shepherd guards and protects His flock from danger, and also feeds and cares for His sheep, leading them into good green pastures and alongside cool clear waters.  That is what your Shepherd does for you, so that you have Life, and so that death is kept at bay.

Because He is also your King, the government rests fully upon His shoulders, and not upon you.  He is not a tyrant, nor a cruel dictator, but an “everlasting Father” for His people.  That is to say, again, that He feeds and clothes you, shelters and protects you, teaches and trains you.  All of this by His grace, without any merit or worthiness in you, but with fatherly divine goodness and mercy.

King Jesus does not take a census of the people in order to tax the world.  He distributes His own wealth to you and all your fellow citizens of His Kingdom, so that you and your neighbor are well supplied and able to love and serve and care for each other with the good gifts of your King.

So, consider how it is: You are saved by Him, and now you live by His grace and mercy, and you have Peace in the Light of His Gospel.  For He is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, and having been anointed by the Spirit of His Father in His Body of flesh and blood, He pours out the Holy Spirit upon you through His forgiving of all your sins.  Indeed, He is the Lord Himself — the almighty and eternal Son of God, begotten of the Father from all eternity — but He has also become true Man, a human being like yourself, by His conception and birth of St. Mary.  In Him, God and Man are perfectly and permanently united.  So, also, in Him you are united with God in perfect Peace.

Come, then, avail yourself of these good things.  Seek and find your Savior in the place where He directs you to go, so that you might worship and adore Him by first of all hearing His Word and receiving His good gifts; and that you should then also return thanks, bend your knee and lift up your voice, and love and serve your neighbor in the Name and for the sake of your true King.

You find Him in the city of David, that is, in Bethlehem, the “House of Bread.”  Not by accident or coincidence is your Savior found in such a House, for He is the true and living Bread come down from heaven.  But His Bethlehem is not far away from you, on the other side of the planet.  It is found, and He is found, wherever His Church is gathered by and for the preaching of His Gospel and the giving of His Body in remembrance of Him.  The household and family of His Church, in which that Bread is administered with His Word, is where you find the Son of David.

He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, in anticipation of the clothes that will wrap and swaddle His Body when He is taken down from the Cross and buried.  For He wraps Himself in your frailty and weakness, in your fallen-ness, in your mortality and death.  But so does He also burst the bonds of sin and death and set you free.  The swaddling clothes of His humble nativity and of His tomb are a sign of His Victory over death and the grave, which He has accomplished for you and for all, that He might wrap Himself up and give Himself to you under the Tree of His Cross.

So is He wrapped and swaddled now upon the Altar of His Church, in the Cup and on the Plate, reverently adorned with linens recalling both His burial and His Resurrection from the dead.

If you want to find Him, do so here at His Altar.  If the wood of the manger has given way to the wood of the Cross, so is the Cross set before you in the wood of this Altar.  And it is still a manger of sorts, that is, a feeding trough from which you eat and drink.  Here is where His sheep are fed with the Food and Drink that are His own holy Body and His own most precious Blood.

Little wonder, then, that angels and archangels and all the host of heaven are gathered here with you and join with you in praising God.  For wherever the Body and Blood of the incarnate Son of God are found, there all of heaven takes notice, pays devout attention, and sings with great joy and gladness to the glory, honor, thanks, and praise of the Holy Triune God.  All the saints and holy angels in heaven and on earth rejoice, give thanks, and sing, because the Lord our God has become Man, and He has saved the sons of men for the Life everlasting.

The same Lord God in mercy sends His messengers to you, to shepherd you as His dear sheep by the preaching and teaching of His Word, in order to bring you these glad tidings.

Do keep these things, as St. Mary did, and ponder them both day and night in your heart and mind.  Savor these glad tidings in your words and actions.  For this Word of Christ Jesus is the Light that disperses the gloom and scatters the darkness.  So it does for you, as you hear it and remember it; and so it does for your neighbor, as you also speak it and share it with those whom you encounter.

With this Word, and by this Light, return to your own field and your flock with thanksgiving to God, and be at Peace in the sure and certain hope of Christ Jesus.  The Truth is that His Incarnation and His Birth, His Cross and Resurrection, have already changed everything for the better.

Though it is still dark in this perishing world, and the night seems to reign without ending, in fact everything is just as it has been told to you.  Your Light has come in the Flesh and Blood of Christ Jesus, and the Grace of God has appeared in the preaching of His Gospel.  The eternal Day has already dawned in the bodily Resurrection of the same Lord Jesus from the dead, and as you are redeemed by His Cross, so shall you also rise and live forever in His Light.

What your eyes have not yet seen shall at last appear, suddenly bursting into the midst of this long dark night.  As surely as the Gospel is here preached and the Sacrament administered for the forgiveness of your sins, so surely does your Savior come to you, and His Glory shines upon you, and so surely will He bring you home rejoicing.  Then there shall be no more night forever, but only the Light of the Word-made-Flesh, forever and forevermore.

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

30 November 2022

So It Begins, and So It Goes

And so it begins with St. John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the Prophets and the Forerunner of the Christ.  He is the Voice of God, crying out in the wilderness to prepare the Way of the Lord.  And it is by his preaching and Baptism of repentance that St. Andrew is pointed to Christ Jesus.

You also are prepared for the coming of the Christ, you are brought to Him and given to follow Him as a disciple, by the Office and Ministry of St. John the Baptist, that is, by the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins in the Name of the Lord Jesus.  You could not prepare yourself for the Lord’s Advent, but you are prepared for His Coming by this Ministry.

Hearing the Word of the Lord on a regular basis, the preaching of His Law and His Gospel, is the way and the means by which you remember and live within the ongoing significance of your Holy Baptism, to which His Word called you from the outset.  His Law daily crucifies your flesh and calls you to repentance, and His Gospel daily raises you up with Christ Jesus in His Resurrection, adorning you with His perfect righteousness and holiness, so that you are ready for His Coming.

Thus do you live the Christian life, the daily discipline of repentance and forgiveness.  And thus are you prepared throughout Advent, along with St. Andrew, as a disciple of St. John the Baptist.  But then also, with St. Andrew, you are catechized to follow Christ Jesus as one of His disciples.

And so it goes.  St. Andrew did not remain with John the Baptist.  The preacher’s task is to prepare the people for the Christ, to lead and point the people to Christ Jesus and entrust them to Him alone.  St. John’s preaching of repentance is for the forgiveness of sins because it proclaims the one and only Lamb of God.  St. John’s Baptism gives way to the Baptism of Christ and His Spirit.

It may not have been easy for St. John to let go of his own disciples and send them after Christ Jesus.  He likely struggled with his pride and the temptation of his own self-importance.  But the Word and Spirit of the Lord gave St. John the fortitude to carry out the duties of his Office, as we have heard, for example, in the case of St. Andrew.  “Behold the Lamb of God,” St. John declared.  And that was all it took.  From that point St. Andrew would follow the Lord Jesus.

St. Andrew addresses the Lord as “Rabbi,” Teacher, and thereby acknowledges that he will learn all things from Jesus.  Being a “disciple” in this respect is more than going to classes, reading books, doing your homework, and taking exams, as though the Christian faith and life were an academic pursuit or a terminal degree program.  Being a disciple does include the learning of facts and the acquisition of knowledge, but that is really only one small part of discipleship.

As a disciple, St. Andrew would learn how to live his entire life from Jesus.  He would be learning life itself.  He would “eat, sleep, and breathe” the Way of Christ, like a new recruit in boot camp.

That is what it means to find out where Jesus is staying, and then to live and abide with Him there.  The disciples of Christ Jesus live entirely with Him, all of life, both day and night.  For He is the Word of God made Flesh who tabernacles with us; and as the Lamb who is sacrificed for our sins and raised from the dead, His Body is the Temple wherein we live and abide with God.

So, then, along with St. Andrew, you are likewise called to find your entire life in Christ Jesus, to follow Him and learn all things from Him.  From the waters of your Baptism you are called to live and walk in the Way of the Lord in daily repentance and by faith in His forgiveness of your sins.  You also come and see where He is staying, and you stay with Him in the House of the Lord.

It is within His Church that you “eat, sleep, and breathe” Christ Jesus, learning from Him — from His Cross and Resurrection — how to live and how to die by faith in His Word as a Christian.

Now, following Christ Jesus and living with Him in His House is not a selfish or solitary pursuit.  Rather, as St. Andrew first sought and found his brother, Simon, you also seek out your family and friends; urge them to “come and see,” to join you in finding and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do it by confessing the Word that you have heard, and by living in harmony with that Word.  As you are catechized to live your entire life by faith in Christ Jesus, show forth His Gospel in dealing with your neighbors.  This most natural evangelism is not any kind of program; it is a way of life in the Way of Christ, just as He teaches you to live in Him in holy faith and holy love.

To be sure, in bringing his brother, Simon Peter, to Christ Jesus, St. Andrew also anticipated the way that both he and his brother would be called to serve the Lord.  These two men were not only called to follow Jesus as disciples — as you and all Christians are called to follow Jesus and to learn from Him — but they were also called and sent as Apostles of the same Lord Jesus Christ.  And that is quite another matter altogether, for which we give thanks and celebrate on this day.

As an Apostle, St. Andrew was sent in the Name and stead of Christ, as a personal representative of the Good Shepherd.  In that Office and Vocation he continued the Ministry of St. John the Baptist and of Jesus Himself.  He baptized others into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, he preached the Word unto repentance and faith, and he fed the sheep with the very Lamb of God.

In all of these ways and means, the Ministry of the Gospel is more than just a word or message about Jesus.  It is the real presence and proclamation of Christ Himself, who comes to you here and now by these very Means of Grace to prepare you for His Coming in glory for the final judgment.

Our blessed Lord, in His own divine wisdom and great mercy, chose to call St. Andrew to that Apostolic Ministry of His Gospel, for the benefit of His Church and to the glory of His holy Name.  And as St. John writes in his Book of the Revelation, we know that St. Andrew’s name, as one of the “Twelve Apostles of the Lamb,” adorns the foundation of the Holy City, New Jerusalem, the very City of heaven itself, for which we wait and hope and daily pray, especially during Advent.

In a very real sense, that Apostolic Ministry began when St. Andrew left St. John the Baptist and took his brother with him to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.  From that day the very same Apostolic Ministry has continued by the grace of the same Lord Jesus throughout the centuries, also here and now to you, by which you are prepared for the Salvation ready to be revealed on the Last Day.

By this Ministry of the Gospel, by the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins, and by the Body and Blood of the Lamb, given and poured out for you to eat and drink, you are prepared to face your death and your own “judgment day,” as St. Andrew was prepared by the same Word and Sacraments of Christ for his own courageous death as a Christian martyr.

Having been baptized into the death and Resurrection of Jesus, and having been fed by His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion, St. Andrew knew by faith that he had been made ready by Christ Jesus Himself, in body and soul, for the Life everlasting.  So also for you and all who are baptized into Christ.  Even your death from this mortal life is not able to separate you from Him; for the Lamb of God who takes away your sins and conquers death is here with you in the Flesh.

So it begins, and so it goes.  With St. Andrew and all the saints who have gone before us in the faith and confession of Jesus, you are baptized in His Name as a beloved and well-pleasing child of His God and Father.  You are forgiven by His Gospel.  You are fed from His Table and served by His Love.  And by this Apostolic Ministry of Christ Jesus, you are given His Life everlasting.

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

04 September 2022

The Things That Make for Peace

People certainly do start projects they can’t finish.  They do it all the time — maybe due to pride, or maybe out of desperation — without a lot of forethought or planning, perhaps, or with a naive optimism.  And not just other people, you do it, too.  You take on more than you can manage.  You make promises that you won’t be able to keep — maybe with the best of intentions, or maybe just to keep the wolves at bay for a little while longer.  You write checks that your body can’t cash.  And you go into debt buying things you don’t need with money you don’t have.

The same spirit of competition and self-advancement that drives you to do such things, beyond your actual capacities and limitations, also puts you into conflict with everyone around you.  So, along with all the rest of it, you take on opponents that you can’t hope to defeat or overcome.  “Eye of the tiger” and all that, sure, but this, too, is vanity.  And you’re not alone in your bravado.  From the playground to the White House, the sons and daughters of Adam pick fights they can’t win.

All of this is foolishness, which is always easier to spot in the choices and decisions of the other guy than it is to admit in yourself.  But you know better, or you should.  To tackle more than you can handle is foolish.  It’s a waste of time, energy, and resources, all of which could have been, and should have been, put to some better use.  And as the Lord Jesus points out, you not only suffer the loss of your investment, but embarrassment and shame in the eyes of all who see it.

The stakes are that much higher in the case at hand in this Word of our Lord.  Be wise, therefore, and consider this: If the war you want to win is the judgement of God’s holy and righteous Law, and if the goal you want to reach is that of real Life and genuine prosperity in the heavenly places, there’s only one way to gain that victory and only one way to arrive at that goal.  Only one way, and that not of yourself; it is solely by the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by following Him through death and the grave into His Resurrection and Life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.

It is by the way of the Cross.  But what does that mean?  To take up the Cross and bear it after Christ is not an exercise program or a disciplined new diet, whereby you strive to build yourself up and improve your overall health and well-being.  There is a place for such discipline in this body and life, and in your spiritual life, as well.  But the Cross does not aim at a better you.  It’s not a matter of self-improvement.  To take up your own cross is to embrace your own execution.

To be a disciple of Christ Jesus, to take up His Cross and follow after Him, is to renounce yourself entirely.  It is to disavow your collections and your trophies, your prizes and scrapbooks.  It is to disregard, not only your possessions, your perishable stuff, but all the best parts of you, that is to say, your wisdom, your reason, your strength, and all of your achievements.  To bear the Cross is to be done with all of your self-righteousness.  And with that, it redefines all of your relationships, as well, with family, friends, and neighbors.  To be crucified is not to get stronger and healthier; it is to die to yourself and your life in this fallen and perishing world.

So, then, give up building your own towers, and stop trying to fight your own battles, because the truth is, you can’t reach the heavens, nor can you win the war, by any ways or means of your own.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can make it or complete it.  You can’t.  Think about it.  When all the world was united following the Flood, the descendants of Noah set out to build a mighty tower, in order to make a name for themselves, to achieve their own fame and glory — in disobedience to the Word of God.  And it sure seemed like there wasn’t anything they couldn’t do.  But the Lord set Himself against them, confused their communications, and terminated their grand building project.  They could do nothing, finally, except what the Lord determined and permitted.

The “rich fool,” likewise, as we heard from Jesus a few weeks ago, considered his crops and his storage barns, carefully counted his costs and his profits, and then made his plans to build more and bigger barns for all his grain, to store up his wealth for many years to come.  But then his life came to an abrupt end, and he wasn’t able to carry out his plans, nor to benefit from all his crops.

When it comes to battles and warfare, consider the history of Moses and the Israelites, of Joshua and the subsequent Judges, especially Gideon, Samson, and Samuel, and the stories of King Saul and King David.  It is the Lord who fights for His people, whether with only a few men or many.  And where He has spoken, it doesn’t matter if the enemy has hundreds or thousands of soldiers, chariots and horsemen, weapons of bronze, or nine-foot giants — the battle belongs to the Lord.

By the same token, whenever Israel proceeds apart from the Word and promise of God, then they are soundly defeated and put to flight, like flea-bitten dogs with their tails between their legs.

When it comes right down to it, it’s not the number of people you have lined up on your side, nor the number of dollars in your portfolio, nor the extent of your military savvy, strength, and skill, but the Word and Spirit of God are alone decisive.  When you proceed according to His Word, even in great weakness you will succeed and prosper; and when you follow your own self-chosen path apart from His Word, you will fail and fall apart.  Not according to the measure of the world, but according to the divine Wisdom of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Which is to say that it may look as though you’ve got the bases covered, but you don’t; whereas, again, when you are being crucified and put to death, and you suffer all manner of hardships and major setbacks, it may be that the Lord Himself is bringing you through those trials and tribulations into Glory.

The logic of the Cross is not intuitive or rational.  You can’t figure it out by instinct or calculation.  It is something you are taught by the Word-made-Flesh.  You learn from Him as you listen to His preaching, and as you follow after Him and live with Him on the paradoxical Way of His Cross.

Thus do you learn from Christ Jesus that the wealth and ability by which you live and prosper — the ways and means by which you are completed and preserved, rescued and sustained — these are not your own, neither are they in your own power or possession, but they are found in the fear of the Lord, that is, by repentance and faith in His Word, in His commands and promises.

The blessing of the Lord your God, the Holy Trinity — His gift of Life and prosperity — is found in Christ the Crucified, the Incarnate Son.  In this foolishness of God, which is wiser than man.  In this weakness of God, which is stronger than man.  In this death of God for the life of the world.

The Cross and Passion of the Christ is the divine blessing by which you are saved.  By contrast, to rely upon your yourself, upon your family and the whole gamut of your possessions, as though to achieve and keep life for yourself by these means, that is the curse of idolatry, sin, and death.  You cannot overcome it, but, ironically, the harder that you try, the more you will succumb to it.  It is both sinful and self-defeating to rely upon yourself and your own assets; for that puts you at odds with God, and you will not be able to withstand Him or survive when He comes against you.

This does not mean that your body and life, your place in the world, your family and friends, and all the stuff that God has put into your hands is somehow bad or evil.  When the Lord Jesus speaks of “hating” your parents and children, spouse and siblings, for example, He is not describing an emotion or feeling of dislike or disgust, but objective choices and decisions, actions and behaviors, whereby you refuse to worship any other god than the Lord, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The person that you are, the people that God has placed around you in the world, and the portion of His creation that He has entrusted to your stewardship in this life on earth, all of that is good and right in its own proper place.  This is the good salt of which Jesus speaks, with which the Lord has seasoned you along the way; and it is meant to season the sacrifice that you are to offer unto Him by faith.  What I mean by that is this: You receive all that you are and have from God’s gracious hand, and so do you render it all back to Him, to the honor, praise, and glory of His Holy Name.

You should not despise what God has given to you; but neither should you worship and depend upon the creature in the place that belongs to the Creator.  You should neither demonize nor idolize the good gifts of God, but receive them in faith and sanctify their use by His Word and prayer.  Then the good salt is put to its godly purpose, and your sacrifice is seasoned with thanksgiving.

Attempting to use the salt, instead, to buy or build or battle your way into heaven, is worthless.  Not only does it do you no good, but it also robs the salt of its good worth, and of its saltiness, so that it becomes useless and even detrimental — not in itself, that is, but in your use of it, or misuse.

The salt is rightly used, as I have said, when it accompanies the sacrifice of yourself unto God, whereby you renounce all reliance on yourself, and you relinquish yourself and all your stuff to the Lord your God, in the confidence that all good things are from Him, both for now and for ever.

Such is the Sacrifice and Salt of Christ Jesus, who sets an example for you to follow in His steps.  In Him is the Way of discipleship, that is, the Way of the Cross, the Way of repentance, faith, and love, by which He obtains life and prosperity for you and for all of His disciples after Him.

He relies, not on Himself, but on His Father.  He looks to His Father in faith and receives all things from Him; and yet, He does not cling to anything, but He offers it up with Himself as a sacrifice.  Indeed, He renounces Himself entirely, and gives Himself up to the Cross, in order to be honored by His Father.  He stakes everything on the Glory of God, on the promise of the Resurrection; not for His own advantage or benefit, but for the good of His neighbor, for your sake, in holy love.

He is the one Man who is willing and actually able to pay the cost, to finish the work that He has been given to do, to establish, build, and complete the tower that reaches to the Father in heaven.  But notice that He finishes the task and pays the price, not with cash or credit, paper or plastic, but with His own holy and precious Blood.  Rather than avoiding embarrassment and the ridicule of the world, He humbles Himself and bears the shame of sinners, trusting in God’s vindication.

Outwardly speaking, He appears to be undone, outnumbered, and overcome.  He saved others, and yet, or so it seems, He cannot save Himself.  More to the point, He chooses not to save Himself, nor to exalt Himself, but He waits upon the Father to save Him from out of death and to exalt Him in the highest.  He does not build a tower to make a Name for Himself, but He is lifted up on the Cross to the glory of God.  He willingly submits to death, and He suffers Himself to be laughed at, mocked, and made fun of, in order to rely entirely upon the Word and promise of His Father.

Although He has 10,000 angels at His command, any one of which could take out His enemies — and even though He is the “stronger Man,” indeed, the almighty and eternal Son of God, by whom all things are made — He defeats the ruler of this world, and He reconciles the world to God, by the voluntary sacrifice of Himself, contrary to every wisdom and strategy of this mortal world.

Rather than crushing His enemies and establishing justice by brute force and raw violence against those who oppose Him, He makes for Peace and Righteousness by His Cross and Resurrection.

And this same Peace and Righteousness are what He gives to you by His grace, by the delegation of His Gospel, by the preaching of His Cross unto repentance and forgiveness of sins.

As Philemon owed his very life to the Apostle, St. Paul, on account of the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, so does your whole life derive from and depend upon the Gospel of the same Lord.  As you are crucified with His Cross by the preaching of repentance, so are you raised up with His Resurrection by His free forgiveness of all your sins, unto faith and life and prosperity forever.

By His preaching the dear Lord Jesus seasons you with the salt of His own Sacrifice, so as to preserve you in Himself and bring you to His Father in perfect peace and joy, as He Himself has returned to the right hand of the Father in righteousness and holiness, blessedness and glory.

Here, then, receive these Holy Things which make for Peace with God: The Word of the Gospel, which absolves you of all your sins, and the Body and Blood of your Savior, Christ Jesus, given and poured out for you, for your Life and Salvation in and with Him.

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

29 August 2022

Put to Death and Raised to Life in and with Christ Jesus

You’re fascinated by St. John the Baptist.  No surprise — he is a fascinating man.  But at the same time, you’re also scared to death of him and of his preaching.  Or, if you’re not, you should be.

Now, it may be that you like to hear his fiery preaching well enough, especially when he’s pointing the finger at somebody else, and especially when you assume that John the Baptist is long since dead and gone.  But you don’t like it at all when you find that he is still preaching repentance from the Holy Scriptures.  You don’t like it when he turns the Law of God on you and your sins, and he calls you to repent in both heart and life, to set aside your vices and actually change your behavior.

If you imagine that you do like to hear St. John call you to repentance, then you don’t understand repentance at all, and you sink that much further into your own self-righteousness, supposing that genuine repentance, faith, and life are something you can do for yourself.  I guarantee that your old Adam, who is no one other than yourself, does not like to hear the true preaching of the Law.

The preaching of St. John the Baptist does still call you to repent, and it’s a deadly serious matter.  Not only that, but your life depends upon it, because it is not lawful for you to think the things that you think; it is not lawful for you to say the things that you say; and it is not lawful for you to keep on doing the things that you are doing.  Your sins and your sinfulness are neither lawful nor safe.

It is not lawful for you to compete and fight with your brothers and sisters, nor to take their stuff away, whether it be Legos and action figures or books and video games, or whatever it might be.

And as you get older, it is equally wrong and sinful to lust after your neighbor’s wife, to crave her for yourself, and to devise ways of enticing her away from your neighbor.  So, too, it is not lawful for you to covet your neighbor’s children, his friends, his workers, or even his pets.

Nor is it lawful for you to covet the bodies and affections of young dancing girls, or any of the other provocative allurements of this world, which reign as idols in your heart and in your life.

All of your selfish, prideful kingdom building is wrong, as you arrogantly presume yourself to be a god and not a mortal man.  And yet, fearing the opinions of man more than you fear the one true God, you commit what amounts to murder in His eyes and in His righteous judgment — by the hatred and enmity in your heart toward those who are beyond your reach, and by the actual hurt and hostility that you inflict upon those who cannot protect or defend themselves from you.

It is not lawful for you to do any of these things, nor a thousand other similar sins that you commit.

But you add sin upon your sin, and you make things far worse for yourself, when you shut up the preaching of the Law, when you stop your ears to it and run away from it — when you presume to keep it on a leash, because you like to hear it “a little bit,” but you want to keep it at arm’s length, or locked up in a cage or a dungeon, and you insist that it may speak to you only when it is spoken to, and only to the extent that you permit.  You thus suppose yourself to be the master of your own domain, the king or queen of your own castle; but that’s a lie which ends in death.

Repent of your arrogance and of your sin, or you will lose more than half of your kingdom, and really far more than your head or your body in the end.

In your confrontation with St. John the Baptist, it’s kill or be killed, at least for the time being.  There’s no two ways around it.  Neither of you can live while the other one survives in this life.

And yet, here is the profound irony and the paradox of the Cross: Those who save their life in this world will lose it forever in the dungeon prepared for the devil and his wicked angels, while those who lose their life for the sake of Christ Jesus and His Gospel will save it for eternity with Him.  That is how things truly are.

To repent, as you are called to do, and to be baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus, is to put your own head on the chopping block, it is to bare your neck to the sword — to the Sword of the Spirit, at least, and, as needs may be, to the temporal sword of the king.

This isn’t fun and games.  It’s not make-believe or “let’s pretend.”  It is a fearful and deadly encounter.  No one gets out alive.  One way or the other, you are called upon to die, whether for the Resurrection and eternal Life in Christ Jesus, or for eternal death and damnation in hell.

But, now then, do not hear and see only St. John’s fearful preaching of the Law — though, by all means, do hear and heed that preaching, and repent.  But in repenting see him point and give way to Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away your sins, who submits Himself to death and the grave on your behalf, and who raises you up with Himself, in body and soul, unto newness of life.

St. John’s entire life and ministry, his preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, his suffering, and finally his death, are all a witness and a proclamation of this one Lord Jesus Christ, of His Cross and Passion, and of His Resurrection from the dead.

Everything about St. John — from his miraculous conception and birth, from the waters of the Jordan River to the depths of Herod’s dungeon and, finally, to the tomb in which he is buried — everything about St. John is wrapped up in Jesus.  It’s all about Jesus.  Every bit of it points to the Lord Jesus Christ.  For St. John is called and sent by God to be the Forerunner of the Christ, to go before the face of the Lord and prepare His Way.  And because the Way of the Lord is the way of the Cross, the way of suffering and death, that is where St. John the Baptist goes.

The same is true for anyone else who preaches and baptizes in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And it is no less the case for those who are baptized into Him, who are given His Cross to bear and are called to follow after Him, even to the point of death and the grave.  It is to that Cross of Christ, and to that death with Him, that each and all of you are called by His Word and Holy Spirit.

The Lord’s people, His saints, are so wrapped up in Christ Jesus, so identified with Him, and so also named by Him and for Him as Christians, that the world sees Christ Jesus in them.  And that is true for you, as well; for it is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you, and you in Him.

And so it was that Herod could not shake the impression that Jesus the Christ really was St. John the Baptist risen from the dead.  And in a way, Herod was exactly right about that!

In the Word and works of Christ Jesus are the first fruits of His Cross and Resurrection.  For His gracious miracles of healing and new life are a blessed foretaste of the neverending Feast that has come to fruition in His Resurrection and is manifest around the world in the Liturgy of His Gospel.

For those who die with Christ Jesus, like St. John and all the baptized, Jesus’ Resurrection is their Resurrection and their imperishable Life.  His Resurrection is your Resurrection and your Life.

So also, it is in Christ Jesus that St. John and all the baptized are righteous and holy.  It is in Jesus that you are righteous and holy, blameless, innocent, and pure before God the Father in heaven.

It is in that sure and certain hope, in that confidence of Christ and His Gospel, that the disciples of St. John, with tender affection and Christian love, laid his poor mistreated body to rest in the tomb, there to await the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day.

And already, the souls of those, including St. John the Baptist, who have been slain for the sake of the Word of God — as well as those who have departed from this mortal life in the faith of Christ Jesus — find their Peace and Sabbath Rest in Him, under His Altar, in heaven as on earth.

What does this mean?  You have died with Christ in your Baptism, and so your life also is now hidden with Christ in God.

In life and in death, in body and in soul — even as you carry the Cross in your callings and stations on earth, and even when your body shall in due season be laid to rest in the dust of the ground — you are safe and secure in the Body and Blood of your crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

This true and everlasting King, who is both God and Man, prepares a Table before you in the presence of your enemies, each and all of whom He has defeated for you by His own Cross.  It is a Banquet, not for His own benefit — not to be served, but to serve you in love — to forgive you all your sins, to give you His own Life, and to save both your body and your soul forever and ever.

So, then, as your mortal body is here fed with His Life-giving Body and Blood, it is enlivened, honored, and glorified by Jesus, in preparation for and anticipation of the resurrection of your body at the last, when it shall be no longer mortal and perishable, no longer subject to sickness, infirmity, and pain, nor any more susceptible to weakness, tiredness, and fear, but immortal, and imperishable, and glorious, like unto His own glorious Body.

Your soul, as well, both now and forever, has Peace and Sabbath Rest in Christ Jesus, who has given Himself for you, who gives you His Body to eat and pours out His holy and precious Blood for you to drink in this Holy Communion.  Whether for the first time, or for the millionth time, it is for all time; it is forever.  For with this Feast He gives you, not simply half His Kingdom, but Himself with all His gifts and benefits, in whom the Kingdom of God is truly at hand.  Therefore, you are His, and He is yours, forever and ever, world without end.

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