18 July 2021

The Bread of Life for the Disciples of Christ Jesus

With food and clothing let us be content, the Scriptures teach us.  But, depending on the climate, you can survive with little or no clothing far longer than you can get by without food.  Once you are born into this world, your life depends upon breathing and eating and drinking.  Breathing is more constant, to be sure, but food and drink on a regular basis are just as necessary to survival.

Spiritual life is very much the same.  As you are born of Christ Jesus in Holy Baptism and clothed in His Righteousness, so do you breathe His Word and Spirit by faith in His forgiveness of sins, and so do you eat and drink His Body and His Blood, which are your Meat and Drink indeed.

Now, as mothers are uniquely equipped to feed their babies, so is the Church equipped to nurture the children of God.  But no Mom can feed her nursing infant if she herself is not also being fed.  She cannot give what she does not receive.  Thus, both Mother and Child wait upon the Lord, who alone provides all that is needed, who opens His hand to satisfy the hunger of every living thing.

The Apostles of the Lord must likewise rely on Him and receive His good gifts, if they are to do and give anything in His Name.  They cannot speak, except as they have heard.  They cannot teach, except what they have been taught.  They cannot forgive sins, except by the Holy Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, which He breathes upon them by His Word.  They cannot heal the people or care for the crowds, except they find their Sabbath Rest in Him and eat and drink from His open hand.

As it is, at this point in the Holy Gospel, they have been doing and teaching a lot for a great many people, and they are consequently spent, exhausted, and hungry.  St. Mark makes a point of saying that “they did not even have time to eat.”  Most of you know how that goes and what that’s like.  You get caught up in your duties, in caring for others and meeting their demands, and, before you know it, mealtime has come and gone, you’ve missed your break, and you can feel yourself slowing down and starting to fade.  Same deal when you’ve been too busy to get enough sleep.  Whether you’re a cook or a waitress, a retail store manager, a doctor or nurse, a cop or an EMT on the night shift, adrenaline may carry you for awhile, and you may have reserves to draw upon, but eventually you’re going to crash.  You need to rest, to eat and drink, to be refreshed and restored.

So it is that Jesus gathers the Apostles to Himself and, with tender compassion, care, and concern for these men whom He loves, He calls them away from the madding crowds to a secluded place, to rest their weary minds and bodies, and to eat.  They follow Him to that place of peace and rest “in the boat,” that is, aboard the “Holy Ark of the Christian Church.”  It is within the Church that you also find Peace and Sabbath Rest in Jesus Christ and eat and drink from His wide open hand.

But the crowds are hungry, too, for life and health and daily bread.  So they follow after Jesus and the Apostles.  Or, rather, they race around the water on foot and wait on the other side.  They don’t get there in the boat, for they are not yet in the Church; they are like sheep without a shepherd.

And Jesus has compassion on them.  He is moved by divine mercy, from the very depths of His being, to help them.  This is the same compassion with which He goes to the Cross, like a Lamb to the slaughter, to lay down His life for the sheep.  Thus does He become their Good Shepherd.  Which is to say that He guards and protects them and rescues them from danger; that He defeats and drives away all the enemies who prey upon them; and that He leads and guides them in safety, sustaining them with food and drink in His green pastures, alongside streams of living water.

But what it means for the Lord Jesus to be their Shepherd, first of all, is that He begins to teach them many things.  He catechizes them by and with His Word.  He makes disciples of them by the preaching of repentance unto faith in His forgiveness of sins.  For He preaches peace to those who are near and to those who are far off.  Thus does He begin to shepherd them and meet their needs.

Still, it is a desolate place, and bodies do need food.  Presumably, the Apostles have not yet eaten, either, but have been listening to Jesus.  You can put yourself in their shoes and imagine how antsy they may have been.  Were their bellies beginning to rumble and growl embarrassingly?  Were they fighting to keep their eyes open?  In any event, it was already quite late when they finally came to Jesus with concern for the crowds of people — and perhaps for their own hunger, as well.  “Send them away,” they urged.  “Let them go and buy themselves something to eat.”  And then, at last, the disciples would also be able to rest and eat, to share their few loaves and fishes between them.

So you can also imagine their surprise and befuddlement when Jesus responds to their suggestion with an entirely different plan: “You,” He says, “give the crowds of people something to eat.”

Jesus is going to feed the five thousand, you already know that.  But He pointedly does so by the hands of His disciples.  That’s just how He works.  That’s how He feeds His Church and shepherds the sheep of His pasture.  He gives to His disciples to give to all His people what they need.

He puts them on the spot, at first, in telling them to do this thing.  They know they don’t have it in them to get it done.  They simply cannot do it.  Where or how would they begin?  It doesn’t even occur to them to consider their own uneaten lunch, because, really, what’s the point?  Five loaves of bread and a couple fish might be fine for twelve hungry men, but it obviously isn’t enough to fill up or satisfy the bellies of five hundred times that many people.  Not. Even. Close.

If the Apostles have been tempted to think that all of their doing and teaching were somehow by their own power and abilities, by their own resources and skills, they certainly know better in this present situation.  In truth, they have nothing but what they first of all receive from the Lord.  They have nothing to give but what they have been given.  In this respect, their preaching and healing are really no different than feeding five thousand people.

So, now, as He has been with them in their doing and teaching, He takes what little they do have — the five loaves and two fish they have already received — and He opens His hand to provide for everything that is needed.  He takes the bread, He blesses, He breaks, and He keeps on giving it to the disciples to set before the people.  So it is that everyone eats, and everyone is satisfied.

This, too, is how He shepherds His sheep.  The food accompanies the teaching of His Word, and now His Word accompanies and sanctifies the food; and both the teaching and the feeding are caught up in the compassion of His own Sacrifice.  In this way He who gives Himself as a ransom for the many also gives Himself to them as real Food and Drink for body and soul.

He likewise allows you to get hungry, as He let the crowds and His disciples to grow hungry; and then He feeds you, one and all, with a miraculous Bread — which none of you have known before, and none of you could ever have gotten for yourself — that you might learn to be and to live as His disciple, that is, to live by faith in His Word.  In such faith you wait upon Him, knowing that He will provide for you.  And in such faith you receive His Bread from His hand with thanksgiving.

For He is your great Good Shepherd King — the new and greater David — who is the Lord, your Righteousness, in the flesh.  He does and accomplishes everything for you in Himself.  He justifies you and reconciles you to God, His Father, by His Cross and Resurrection.  He bears all your sins, all your frailties and weaknesses, all your griefs and sorrows, in His own Body unto death.  And He sheds His own Blood for you, to make Atonement for you, and to redeem you from the bondage of sin and death, unto Life everlasting.  Having done all this, He also comes and preaches peace to you, that is, the forgiveness of all your sins by His Gospel.  He calls and gathers you to Himself, and He cares for you by His Word and Spirit.  He brings you to His God and Father, not simply as a guest or a visitor, but as a beloved child and heir.  Thus, you have a home, that is, a place where you really belong, where you eat and sleep in the fellowship of the Holy Triune God.

No longer are you lost or missing or scattered.  You shall not be destroyed but dwell securely, for the Lord Himself has sought you out and found you.  He has gathered you to Himself, taken you into His arms, and brought you home rejoicing.  Do not be afraid, for He is your Good Shepherd.

He cares for you now, in all these ways, through those shepherds He provides for His flock on earth, that is, through the pastors who preach and teach and administer His Gospel in His Name.  As the whole Church is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, so does the Church in each place live by the Ministry of such preaching and teaching, by the administration of the Holy Sacraments.  Pastors do and teach these things, they give these gifts of God, not by their own reason or strength, but by the Word of Christ Jesus, handing over what He Himself provides.

What I receive from the Lord, I also deliver to you: The confession of Christ, crucified and risen, and His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

I could no more do any of this by myself than the disciples could feed five thousand men, plus women and children, with their lunch.  But Christ Jesus does it all; and even by my mouth and by my hand, He is the One who gives you the Fruits of His Passion here in the Liturgy of His Gospel.

So does He also continue to give His gifts from here.  Consider those twelve baskets full of broken pieces, and how they were gathered up.  Likewise, as the loaves and fishes were multiplied, so are His people fruitful and multiplied in loving and serving, feeding and caring for their neighbors.

What, then?  Are you going to protest that you do not have enough?  That you are hard pressed already, taking care of yourself and your own family?  That you can’t afford to feed your neighbor, besides?  That he or she does nothing for you, anyway, but only takes without returning the favor?

Brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ, you are reconciled to one another in Him, and you belong to one another as members of one Body in Him.  You are one household and family, with one God and Father who daily and richly provides you with all that you need for now and forever.

Do not imagine or pretend that you have nothing to do or to give, nor that you do not have enough to go around.  Instead, do what you are given to do, and give what you receive.  After all, what do you have that you have not received from the Lord by His grace?  All that is needed is provided, and more than enough.  The Lord is generous, and even the young ravens know that all good things come from Him.  Yet, He now desires to serve your neighbor through you, as He also serves you through your neighbor.  He does not give this task without also supplying the bread to fulfill it.

Do not be afraid.  The Lord will not let you starve.  Nor will He work you to death.  It is His work and His death that give you life, and even now He feeds you with Himself.  So, it’s not as though everything depends upon you.  But neither is it true that your work is pointless or inconsequential.  Your calling is not a lark.  Your office and station in life are not for nothing.  Your labors in the Lord are not in vain.  You’re part of His Family, you live in His House; so, just do your own part.

Do your chores and fulfill your duties, whatever you are given to do, in the confidence that Christ is the Cornerstone; that His own crucified and risen Body is the Building, the true Temple of God, in which you live and move and have your being; and that all things are accomplished in Him.

You are not a stranger, nor an outcast, but you belong to Jesus Christ, and so you are a friend and a fellow citizen with all His saints.  Whether you live or die, you are His, and so you shall remain.

If you are tired, hungry, discouraged, anxious, or afraid; if you are spent, exhausted, and ready to expire — take heart, and do not despair.  Your Lord has compassion on you, and He cares for you.

Come here now, and rest awhile in His Peace.  Eat and drink what He so freely gives.  Be refreshed by the Lord who opens wide His hand to feed you.  For you also are baptized — that is the new and better “Circumcision” made without human hands — by which you belong to the fellowship of the new and better Israel, which is the Body and Bride of Christ, His Holy Church.  You are God’s own child.  You are a sheep of the Good Shepherd.  And as such, He satisfies you with Life itself by His Word; which is to say that your body and your soul are fed with the Lord Himself.

Here at His Table in His House you are brought near by His holy and precious Blood, and through the veil of His crucified and risen Body you have access to His God and Father in the Holy Spirit.  He is your Meat and Drink indeed, so that, even in death, you also rise and live in Him forever.

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

11 July 2021

Living, Loving, Dying, and Rising in the Hope of the Resurrection

Whatever grief and mourning filled their hearts and minds, and whatever threat of hopeless despair assaulted them, they came for his body and laid it to rest in the hope of the Resurrection.

That was the hope he had preached, in which he had baptized them and many others — the hope in which he lived, in which he died and was buried — and that hope has not been disappointed.

For he was a Prophet, and more than a Prophet.  He came in the spirit and power of Elijah to make ready the way of the Lord.  He was the Forerunner of the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed; thus did he proclaim the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  To fulfill all righteousness he baptized that same Lamb, Jesus, in the Jordan River; and then he saw Him emerge and arise from those waters to an opened heaven, the blessing of the Father, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

That is the hope of the Resurrection for all who believe and are baptized into Christ Jesus.  And that is the hope that St. John the Baptist preached.  In that same hope, he also continued to preach the Word of the Lord even when his beautiful feet were shut up in prison — even unto his death.

That is your hope, also.  Not suffering and death per se; but that your life is hidden with Christ in God.  You have already been crucified, put to death, and buried with Him by your Holy Baptism in His Name; and so it is that you are also raised from the dead, in and with Him, to live with Him in body and soul, even now by faith, and hereafter in the Resurrection unto the Life everlasting.

Do not be afraid.  Do not let suffering, sickness, pain, or death perplex you.  Do not despair, and do not grow weary of doing good.  For your true and lasting life — your real life in body, soul, and spirit — is safe and secure in the Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.  He will not disappoint you.  Baptized in His Name, you live in and with Him, and He lives in you.

For St. John the Baptist, his life in Christ meant preaching, imprisonment, and finally decapitation.  But what are your own vocations and stations in life?  What has the Lord your God called you to be and to do in His Name?  Where and how would He have you live in faith, hope, and love?

If you are a husband and father, serve your wife and children faithfully and wisely, with patience and gentleness, with compassion and forgiveness, in the way that Christ serves and cares for His Bride, the Church.  Give your body and life for those whom the Lord has entrusted to your care.

If you are a wife, submit to your own husband in the hope of Christ, your heavenly Bridegroom.  And if you are a mother, then care for your own children with mercy and kindness, in much the same way the Church shelters and protects the children of God.  Feed them and clothe them, teach them the Gospel in word and deed, and love them in the spirit and the truth of God’s Holy Word.

Whether you are married and have children or not, cherish and serve your own father and mother as long as you are able.  Love and care for your church family, your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, and for your neighbors in the world.  Do your job carefully and conscientiously, honorably, gladly, and well.  Be content with what you have and where you are, even as you continue to work and grow, to study and learn, and as you look for new ways to benefit the people around you.

It is especially within your callings and stations in life that you bear the Cross of Christ for your neighbor.  And it may well be that you suffer hardship, pain, or difficulty within your vocations, sometimes precisely because of your faithfulness.  That is how it was for St. John the Baptist, and for your Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  To live in your vocations according to the Word of God, under the Cross, is to live already now by faith in the Resurrection of that same Lord Jesus Christ.

Your God-given stations in life may at times feel like a prison, in which you languish and die a little bit more each day.  Your commitments, obligations, and responsibilities tie you down and hold you back, like a heavy ball and chain around your neck.  And you may feel yourself forgotten, neglected, overlooked, unfairly treated.  So many demands and duties, so little freedom, it seems.

But lift up your head, your heart, and your hands in the hope of the Resurrection.  You have not been abandoned, nor shall you ever be forsaken.  Fulfill your callings and bear your afflictions patiently.  The Lord knows where you are.  He does know how it is.  And He knows what is good and best for you.  He has not turned away from you.  He has not withdrawn His gracious hand.  No, His strong arms are still stretched out in love for you, to strengthen and uphold you even in death.

Your dear God and Father in heaven is actually pleased with you.  He rejoices and delights in you.  For you are righteous and holy in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.  Your suffering for His Name’s sake does not negate any of that; it rather confirms the truth by His own Cross.  Which means that His Resurrection and the power of His indestructible Life are yours also, and they shall not be taken from you, because you are His, and He is yours forever — signed, sealed, and delivered.

As your body shall be raised from death to the Life everlasting in Paradise — like unto His own glorious Body — it is also in your body now, under the Cross, that you already live with Christ Jesus by grace through faith in His Gospel, which is your redemption, the forgiveness of your sins.

So, then, do not give your body over to unrighteousness and impurity.  That which is not lawful is not the way of life, it is the way of death and destruction.  To disobey the Lord your God, to disregard His holy Word, brings death to both body and soul, both now and forever.  So does sin bring fear and sorrow and bitter regret, resentment and anxiety, doubt, confusion, and madness.

One sin leads to another, and grief upon grief, further and further away from your faith and life.

To give your body over to sin is to live as though there were no the Resurrection of the body.  And yet, apart from the hope of the Resurrection your life in the world is perplexing and precarious.

If what you see in this world is all you get, and if what you feel and experience in your body and life on earth is all there is to it — if there is no Resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting — then you are left to be driven to and fro and tossed about by the covetous lust and selfish greed and dark despair within your heart and mind, by your anger and dread, frustration and jealousy.  And as such, you never would find or have any true or lasting peace or joy or rest, not at all.

Such denials of the Resurrection are why you manipulate, use, and abuse your neighbors, even your own family and friends.  You entice and seduce, you trick or treat, you blackmail and bargain.  Everything becomes a terrible game, a strategy, a con job, designed to relieve your unquenchable thirst, to feed your insatiable hunger, to quell your restless appetites and persistent cravings.

For all of that, for all your desperate efforts, it is never sufficient or enough.  It never satisfies, and none of it will last forever or for long.  None of it can keep you safe, and none of it will save you.

Apart from the hope of the Resurrection, you never will have what you want, but you will always want more and more and more.  Your sin becomes increasingly desperate, reckless and wild, going from bad to increasingly worse, until it finally brings you fully into death and eternal damnation.

Tragically, all of your pointless and detrimental striving draws you further and further away from what you really need — all the while that is being freely given to be freely received in the Gospel.

The world holds out promises to you that it cannot keep or fulfill.  Sex for power, and power for sex, and a thousand other trade-offs, one sin for another.  Do not chase after those things.  Do not try to take what is not yours.  Do not trade the Resurrection of your body to the everlasting Life for the momentary gratification of your flesh.  Do not fall for that enticing but deadly deception.

When it comes right down to it, this fallen and perishing world has nothing to offer but a tomb, and even that will be emptied in the final judgment.  On the last day you and all the dead will be raised from the dust of the earth, to be judged according to your life in the body, the righteous unto Life everlasting, the wicked unto the neverending punishment prepared for the devil and his demons.

Where, then, are your righteousness and life to be found?  The Lord has granted sure and certain promises to you — all of which He has kept and fulfilled, for you and for all people, from before the foundation of the world — in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, the Incarnate Son.  That is what is true for you, even under the hardship, weight, and suffering of the Cross.  That is what is true for you, even in the face of your sins and the fierce judgment of the Law against you.

Herod was not the first king of Israel to commit adultery and murder; nor was he the first to be confronted by a Prophet of the Lord.  Even such wicked sins and heinous crimes do not undo the Word and work of God in Christ Jesus.  And so, St. John continues preaching repentance to Herod, the man who had thrown him into prison.  He preaches repentance for the same purpose he has always preached, for faith and life in the forgiveness of sins.  That is what and why John preaches.

And King Herod listens with interest to St. John, though he refuses to hear and heed his preaching.  He is perplexed and he is intrigued by what John says, but he finds more pleasure in the dancing body of his niece than in the Word of the Lord.  So what Herod trades for his lust is ultimately far more than half of his kingdom.  He forfeits his soul by shutting the mouth of the Lord’s Prophet.

Do not do the same.  Do not shut the mouth of the Lord’s messenger of repentance by shutting your ears or closing your heart to his preaching of the Cross.  Rather, repent of your sins, and believe the Gospel, because the Kingdom of God is here at hand.  The righteousness and holiness of God, which are proclaimed to you by and with and in this Word, are not only the condemnation of your sins by the Law, but so also the forgiveness of your sins in the Name and stead of Jesus Christ.

Do not be afraid of men or their maneuvers.  Do not fear their power, nor crave their praises.  But fear God, and love and trust in Him.  Cling to His Word and promises.  Rely on His gracious gifts.  Hope in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Live and love in that hope and confidence.

If your body suffers and dies, do not despair; yet shall you live.  If your body is healthy and well, use it to serve faithfully.  Do whatever the Lord has called you and given you to do, wherever He has stationed you on earth, in the hope of the Resurrection.  Receive whatever He gives you with thanksgiving, and use whatever you have in love, because your life is safe with God in Christ.

The surety and guarantee of that good life is already granted to you, by and with the Holy Spirit, in your Holy Baptism, in the free forgiveness of all your sins, and here in the Holy Communion, in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, given and poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins and for Life and Salvation in Him.

This same Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, the true King of Israel, great David’s greater Son, has willingly suffered arrest and execution and all the punishment for his father David’s sins, for Herod’s sins, for all of your sins, and for the sins of the whole world.  He has willingly done so — in holy faith and perfect love — in order to prepare this great Banquet for you and for all people, in which He serves you, His guest, with Himself, His own Body and Life.  He pleases you with His grace, mercy, and peace.  He gives you the fulness of the Kingdom of His God and Father.  He covers your nakedness and shame, and He clothes you with His own perfect righteousness, with His own divine holiness.  He raises you from death to life in both body and soul, now and forever.

The suffering and death of St. John the Baptist — like his preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins — proclaim the Cross and Passion of your dear Lord Jesus Christ, who is indeed the Head of His Body and Bride, the Church, who has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God, in whom you and all His members rise and live.  For your sins are all forgiven.  Therefore, your body also shall rest in peace, and so shall it be raised in glory at the last to live with God forever and ever.

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

20 June 2021

The Peace of the Lord in the Midst of Chaos

You can imagine that storm at sea, the howling of the wind, the crashing of the waves, the water filling up the boat and threatening to sink it.  You can picture the scene, whether or not you’ve been in a boat at sea, because you have your own storms to navigate, your own chaos: Howling winds, crashing waves, water up to your neck, and your whole world on the verge of shipwreck.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void, and darkness covered the face of the deep.  By His Word and Spirit He brought forth light out of the darkness, and He established a beautiful and brilliant order throughout His Creation.  It is still by His Word and Spirit that He creates and gives life and upholds all things in their proper place; whereas, apart from His Word and Spirit, creation collapses back into chaos.

There is such chaos in the world on account of man’s sin.  For the Lord God, who made the man in His own Image, also gave the man dominion over the Creation.  By the Word of the Lord, the man was to exercise authority over the earth, to govern it according to the good order that God had established, and to act as God’s own agent and representative.  Thus, for example, it was the man who gave names to all the animals.  So, too, the man and his wife were to fill the earth with children and to subdue it, not as tyrants but as a godly king and queen over God’s good Creation.  By the same token, when the woman and the man deviated from God’s Word and reversed the order of His Creation, they opened up the floodgates to the wild waters of chaos: Real storms that wreak havoc on land and sea and in the air, and a host of metaphorical storms that rock your world.

Now, man still attempts to exercise dominion.  And so you should within your own calling and station in life, in accordance with the Law of the Lord.  The chaos of sin and death is undone by the right logic of the Word of God, by living in harmony with His good and acceptable will.  When you fear, love, and trust in God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself, then the light shines in the darkness and the chaos gives way to a beautiful order and form.

Yet, man attempts to exercise dominion, not by living under the authority of God’s Word, but by imposing his own will against his neighbor and by pitting his own strength against the challenges and dangers of life in a fallen world.  He sets his own wisdom, ingenuity, and skill to the task of survival.  He takes on the chaos like an exhilarating adventure.  He thrills at the prospect of riding the storm out and forcing it to serve his purposes.  He harnesses the wind and dams the water.

It can be an invigorating contest, up until the point when it all goes horribly wrong and becomes life-threatening.  Then it’s no fun anymore, but scary.  Not only the danger that threatens your body and life, but the overcoming of your will, that is the most disturbing chaos.  The danger can be a thrill, but not the realization that you are powerless, that you are at the whim of wind and wave — that is when the chaos rolls over you completely and drags you down into its depths of darkness.

The external chaos is bad enough, but even more alarming and disarming is the chaos inside of you, driving your thoughts and feelings, your words and actions.  You’d like to believe that you’re in control of yourself, in charge of your own heart, mind, and will.  Except the storms within toss you around and threaten you as much or more than those that rage without.  You’re not really in control.  Lustful thoughts seize your mind, no matter how hard you try to resist them.  Envy and jealousy put you at odds with the neighbors you are called to love.  Bitterness and resentment cast long dark shadows across your soul, no matter how pleasant your outward demeanor may be.  Disappointments and regrets rob you of any confidence or ambition.

Your addictions call the shots, instead of reason or sound judgment.  You spend money you don’t have on things you don’t need.  You eat and drink things that you know will be harmful to your health.  You waste endless hours of your time on frivolous pursuits, instead of doing your duty.

These are the howling winds and the crashing waves that threaten you and overwhelm you from the inside-out.  Chaos and confusion reign within, and you are powerless to save yourself.

But, of course, there is Jesus who has come to help, and He is here with you.  Right?  The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, restores peace and calm to His good Creation.  With His Word He undoes the chaos and orders all things rightly.  Even the winds and waves obey Him; for He is Himself the Word by whom all things are made, and He is also the true Man who exercises godly dominion over Creation.  You have heard the evidence of that in this familiar Holy Gospel.

So, then, why are the disciples even more afraid when Jesus has quieted the wind and stilled the waves than they were of the storm in the first place?  That is what St. Mark has described.  Before, they were afraid because they were perishing; but afterwards, they are very much afraid.  Why?  And why are you so afraid of the good and right ordering that Jesus establishes by His Word?

Such fear is another aspect of the chaos inside of you.  It is the fear of sin and death, instead of fear, love, and trust in God.  For in your fallen state the power and authority and right ordering of the Word of Christ can only be perceived and interpreted as the force of the Law, as the imposing of His will upon all that is contrary to His Word.  So, yes, all that chaos in the world that threatens you must obey Him and submit to Him.  But so is all the chaos within you likewise confronted by the authority of His commands, and your own stubborn will is silenced and stilled before Him.

That perception of the Lord and His authority, according to the power and the judgment of His Law, is even more frightening than the chaos that rages around you.  For it presses upon you and challenges your will, and in a single stroke it undoes all your sin and your self-righteousness.

That’s what you hear when Jesus speaks and the winds and waves obey Him.  And that’s what you hear when the Lord speaks to Job in response to that poor man’s worries and complaints.  That’s what you hear in response to your own sufferings, your struggles, and your sorrows.  Who are you — little man, or little woman — to question or complain about the judgments of the Lord?

But God is not backhanding Job with chastisements when He speaks.  He does not add yet another crushing blow atop the assaults and accusations of the devil.  He does not compound the chaos, and neither does He calm things down by constraining and compelling Job to “shut up.”  Rather, He quiets Job with comfort and consolation in his suffering.  The Lord reveals the mysterious truth that suffering is not a mark of His displeasure, nor is it foreign to His good and gracious purpose.

It is true that the Law reveals the good and right ordering of God’s world.  But there is a deeper and different authority of the Law than its demands and prohibitions, threats and punishments.  All of these confront you and accuse you and weigh so heavily upon you, but only because your heart and mind, your body, soul, and spirit, and the whole sinful world around you, are disordered and chaotic with sinful unbelief and stubborn disobedience.  At the heart of the Law, however, is the harmony of faith and love, the peaceful unity of the Holy Triune God who lives in perfect freedom and acts in perfect love, who gives life to those who are His own creatures.

Hence, the foundation and good order of Creation, and so also the fulfillment of the entire Law, is Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, crucified and risen.  He is the Cornerstone, not only of His Church, but of the heavens and the earth and all things.  From before the foundation of the world He was slain for the salvation of all flesh, and all things are made brand new in His Resurrection from the dead.  His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross is the Self-giving Love of the one true God, the divine grace by which and for which whatever is made has been made.

The Son of God enters the waters of St. Mary’s womb, and He is born from those waters under the Law, in order to redeem those under the Law.  He then enters the waters of St. John’s Baptism in the Jordan River, thereby submitting Himself to sacrificial death as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world; and from those waters He makes His way steadfastly to the Cross.  So does He also embark upon the sea, in order to cross over with His people — through death into life.  As such, He too is found on the boat in the chaotic storm, amid the raging winds and the thrashing waves.

He is on board “just as He is.”  He has flesh and blood like you.  He sleeps because He is true Man.  Which means, not only that He gets tired and must sleep, just as you must take your rest, but also that He lives by faith, just as you are called to live.  Only, where you so often cannot sleep but toss and turn at night, He rests in peace and quietness while the winds and waves toss the boat around.  It is neither exhaustion, nor laziness, nor a lack of care and concern for His fellows, but faith and trust in His Father which enables the Lord Jesus to sleep in peace with all the chaos going on.

He lives as the true Man by entrusting Himself entirely to His God and Father in faith and love.  That is how all of Creation — and man in particular — is created to live; so that is how Jesus lives.  And that is then also how He dies.  For not only does He lay Himself down to sleep in the peace of His Father, but so does He lay down His life, even unto death, in the confidence of His Father’s love and care for Him.  So there is this striking contrast between His peaceful sleeping and His panic-stricken disciples who wonder whether He even cares that they are perishing.  And there are such times when you also question His care for you, when the storm rages and your Jesus sleeps.

But it is in His sleeping, even in His death upon the Cross, that He fully sets Himself, His faith and love against the chaos of sinful unbelief.  His voluntary suffering and death in faithful obedience to His God and Father atones for all of man’s sin and remedies the brokenness of Creation.  So, too, it is in His rising from death and the grave that all of Creation is fully restored in peace, as life and immortality are brought to light through the preaching of the Gospel.

It is in His dying and rising that the Lord Jesus Christ receives the authority to exercise a godly dominion of love over all of Creation.  And nowhere does He do so more profoundly than here in the Holy Communion.  For here He takes bread and wine from His Creation, and He gives them to you as His own Body and Blood, as Meat and Drink indeed for your body of flesh and blood.  He uses His dominion to bless and sanctify Creation, to love, and to give life by giving Himself.  And in His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of your sins, you have Peace in Christ Jesus.  For with His forgiveness the winds and waves are hushed and stilled.

It is true that He rebukes you for your doubts and fears of unbelief.  He calls you to repentance and to faith — to fear the Lord, yes, but so also to love and trust in Him.  To die and rise with Him in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection.  To be at peace in His love for you.  And so to exercise dominion in the place where He has put you, not as a tyrant, but in mercy like His own.

You are on your way.  You’re in the midst of the sea, in the midst of crossing over.  You’re not yet to the other side, and meanwhile there is much that rages against you, both from without and from within.  For you have gone into the waters of Holy Baptism, and, make no mistake, those are deadly waters, in which you are drowned and destroyed with your old Adam, put to death and buried with Christ Jesus.  But consider what that means.  As you are baptized into Christ Jesus, then you are in the boat with Him, and He is in the boat with you, that is, within the Holy Ark of His Christian Church.  And herein you are safe in the midst of the storm, even though you are sometimes so afraid, and even though it seems as though your Lord Jesus were sleeping and not very much concerned about you.  He has laid Himself down to sleep in flesh and blood like yours, in order that you may find your peace and rest and quiet sleep in Him.  Just as He has died for you, so that, by your dying with Him in the waters of Baptism, you may also rise and live with Him.

Here you are safe.  For all your doubts and fears and lack of faith do not make the One who loves you any less faithful.  You may wonder what is going on, and whether He will ever help you, but in truth He is here with you, and He will not let you perish.  To be sure, your body will die, just as He has died.  But so shall your body be raised to be like His own glorious Body, and you shall live forever with Him in body and soul.  No hurricane or tidal wave on earth can drown or blow away that sure and certain hope, which has already been accomplished in the Body of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  In His sleeping is your Sabbath Rest, even in death.  And in His rising from the dead you are saved unto the Life everlasting.  In Him God the Father has already given His “Yes” and “Amen” to your every need and all your prayers.  And thus do you have Peace in Him forever.

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

13 June 2021

The Tree of Life Bears Good Fruits after Its Own Kind

There are lots of different kinds of birds, from the sparrows to the young ravens which do cry, and the Lord God feeds them all.  He cares for them and gives them life, He shelters and protects them; and not one of them falls to the ground or perishes apart from His divine wisdom.

There are lots of different kinds of plants, as well, from the lilies of the field to the tall cedars of Lebanon, and the Lord God gives them life, also.  He provides nutrients in the soil, He causes His rain to fall and water the earth, and He causes His sun to shine, so that, by His creative providence, the plants grow and flourish and bring forth leaves and flowers for beauty and fruit for food.

What sort of a tree are you?  What sort of a planting in the Kingdom of God?  Whether you are big and tall or short and small, what fruits are you bearing to the praise and glory of your Creator?

Are you living by His grace and growing in faith and love in the place where He has planted you?  Are you flourishing and bearing fruits that gladden the hearts of men and glorify your Father in heaven?  Are you ever green, even in your old age?  Or barren, dried up, and withering away?

The fruits of faith are borne from within a life lived in and with God.  This is a mystery beyond your knowledge and ability, given and worked in your body and life by the Lord Himself.  You are His planting, and He provides what is needed for life and growth and flourishing.  He provides the soil in which you are firmly rooted; He provides the rain from heaven that brings forth abundant fruit in you; and He provides the sunshine that warms and lights you and sustains your life in Him.

The fruits of faith are manifestly those of love toward God and for your neighbor in His Name.  In faith and love toward God you offer Him your thanks and praise, because everything you are and have is a gift freely given by His grace.  He has no need of anything from you, but He provides for you in every way.  The earth and all its fulness, all its plants and animals, the trees and flowers, the birds of the air, and all the beasts on a thousand hills are His — so what will you give to Him?

But, just so, as everything you are and have is a gift, for your part there is only thanksgiving and praise in return to the Lord.  Not because He needs even your thanks, but because it is meet, right, and salutary for you to give Him thanks and praise.  And there is nothing else that your heart of love can offer to Him who gives you all things, except to give thanks to Him, to praise His Holy Name, and to glorify Him for who He is and all that He has done for you in both body and soul.

The main way that you return such thanks and praise and glorify His Name is by confessing what He has said to you.  You confess His Word when you pray as He has taught you, and as you speak the faith before Him and to your neighbor.  To speak of all the marvelous works of the Lord your God, that is how the Holy Scriptures describe the praise and thanksgiving of His holy people.

Unto the Lord your God you offer such thanksgiving, the fruit of lips that praise His Name.  And in faith toward Him you exercise love for your neighbors in the world.  Indeed, you are free to pour yourself out in self-sacrificing love and charity and kindness for your neighbor, precisely because you know that your God and Father in heaven provides you with all that you need, and, whether you live or die, all good things are yours in Christ Jesus.

Is that what your life is like?  Is that how you are living?  On the one hand, it is not a hard life, because it is by the grace of God through faith in His Gospel; it is not earned but received as a gift.  But on the other hand, it is not easy, either, nor is it lacking in works.  To love your neighbor does require conscientious effort, long-suffering patience, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, such as the Lord Himself has first of all extended in love toward you.  And that you might learn to live and love as He does — that you should be conformed to the Image and Likeness of God in the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus — He bestows this life upon you from the Cross, and He works this life within you by the way of His Cross, by repentance and faith in His forgiveness of your sins.

Apart from His forgiveness, it is impossible for you to live and grow and flourish in the Kingdom of God.  It is impossible to praise the Lord your God or love your neighbor as you ought, except your God and Father give you life in Christ Jesus by His Word and Holy Spirit.  And this He does within His House by the Liturgy of His Gospel, by the preaching and Sacrament of Christ Jesus.

“In the courts of God,” that is where He does His work and has His way with you.  That is where He causes the Rain of His Word to shower down and the Seed of His Word to be planted, whereby the Sunshine of His Spirit shines upon you in Christ Jesus.  And that is where the Lord takes you in hand, raises you up in love, and nurtures and sustains you with the Fruits of His Tree of Life.

It is by the righteousness of God that you live.  And that righteousness of God is not that you keep His Commandments or fulfill His Law; it is rather found in His grace, mercy, and forgiveness, in His salvation of sinners.  That is the Power and the Glory of God — and that is His righteousness — that He justifies sinners and gives them life instead of death for the sake of His divine Love.

To live by this righteousness of God is, first of all, simply to hear what He speaks and receive what He gives.  Look to Him for all good things, and trust Him for all that you need, in the confidence that He daily and richly provides for your body and soul, for this life and for eternity with Him.  And in such faith, return thanks to Him for all His benefits, confess what He has said and done, call upon His Name in faith, hope, and love, and serve your neighbors with the charity of Jesus.

By contrast, when you attempt to live by and for yourself, by your own reason and strength and for your own advantage and benefit, then you will die in your sin.  For that is not the righteousness of God, it is the idolatry of self-righteousness and covetous lust, whereby you do not receive but spurn the gifts of God, His forgiveness, life, and salvation.  That is not only the wrong way to live, it is no way to live at all.  It is not life but death.  There is nothing in you by which to grow and live and flourish.  Rather, relying on yourself and serving yourself, you consume yourself and perish.

Remove a plant from the ground, withhold water from it, and keep it hidden in the dark away from the sun, and you know that it will not survive.  Likewise, if you turn away from God, depart from His Word, and hide yourself away from your neighbor, then you cut yourself off from the very life which the Lord desires to give you with Himself and in communion with His Body, the Church.

Apart from the Word and Spirit of God there is neither faith nor love.  And where there is no faith and love, there is no life.  If you appear to be strong and mighty now, and yet have no faith in God and no love for your neighbor, then you are already dead and dying, and you are already useless.

But how do you live and grow and flourish in the Kingdom of God?  How is it that your dry and useless tree becomes green and fruitful?  And how is it that your low tree shall ever be exalted?  How is it that you, a sinner, are raised up from death to life in the Kingdom of God, in the courts of the Lord’s House, in the midst of His Jerusalem, planted and alive on the heights of Mt. Zion?

The answer and solution — your rescue and salvation — are found solely in Christ Jesus.  For the Kingdom of God is found solely in Him, the one righteous Man who flourishes and bears abundant fruit to the praise and glory of His God and Father and for the benefit of all His neighbors, even for His enemies.  He is the true Seed, the Lord’s own planting, and His Cross is the Tree of Life.

God thus speaks to you by His Son, who comes in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours, in which He also bears the full weight of your mortality, all of your infirmities, burdens, and sorrows, and all of your iniquities, trespasses, and sins of thought, word, and deed.  He bears it all in His own Body to the Cross, where He also puts it to death in Himself and then buries it forever.  For thus was He planted in the ground — in the dust of the earth — as the tiniest of Seeds in the dirt.

But whereas your sins have all been done away with by His Cross and Passion, put to death and put away forever in the tomb, God has raised this same Jesus from the dead in righteousness.  He has risen from the dust of the earth, and, what is more, He grows and thrives and flourishes over and above the mighty cedars of Lebanon and all the massive redwoods of California.  His Cross is a Tree above them all, although it appears to be very small and weak and fruitless and helpless.

And in His Resurrection, He bears and brings forth abundant Fruit from that Tree of His Cross.  Indeed, His own crucified and risen Body is the Firstfruits of the New Creation.  And all this He has done, not selfishly, not for His own benefit — He needed nothing — but He has done it all for you, that He might feed you, and that you might also live and grow and flourish in and with Him.

By the preaching of the Gospel He sows His Seed throughout the world, even to the ends of the earth, in order to make disciples from all the nations by way of catechesis and Holy Baptism in His Name, and by feeding and nourishing His disciples with His Word and Flesh within His Church.

By His atoning Sacrifice, His Cross has been planted and established as the Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise; and just so, it bears its good and blessed Fruits here within His Church on earth.

His Cross has become a place of shade in the noonday heat, a place of rest for weary travelers who cannot make it any farther.  In the branches of His Tree of the Cross birds of every kind abide in safety and peace.  The leaves of His Tree are Medicine for the healing of the nations; and the Fruits of His Tree are given and poured out for you and for the many as nourishment and refreshment.

His Tree of the Cross is your shelter and protection, because it is by and from His Cross that you receive the forgiveness of all your sins.  Daily you are forgiven by the Word of the Cross.  Daily and richly you are fed with its grace, mercy, and peace.  From the Cross the Lord Jesus hands over His Holy Spirit, pours out the Water and the Blood, and feeds you by His own wounded hand.

He is the righteous Man.  The Kingdom of God is not only like Him, but it is found in Him, and it is here at hand in Him.  For He has planted Himself here on earth in order to give Himself to you; and, indeed, He has planted Himself in you — into your ears, into your heart, mind, and body — that He should live and abide in you, and that you should live and abide in Him, now and forever.

Thus, by the washing of the water with His Word, you have been planted together with Him in His death and burial, that you should also rise and live with Him and bear abundant fruit to the glory of His Holy Name.  So it is that, as often as you are returned to the waters of your Baptism by daily contrition and repentance, by His preaching of the Law and the Gospel, you are watered with the Water of God, enlivened by His Holy Spirit in body and soul, and fruitful in His Righteousness.

Here, too, by His Word, in the courts of the Lord’s House, you are seated as a guest at His Table.  And here you are fed like a baby bird receiving a worm from its mama.  For here your own dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, feeds you with the Fruits of His Cross, with His own Body and His Blood — into your mouth and into your body — to bear good fruits in you after His own kind.

See how tenderly He cares for you!  Here you can make your nest and find your shelter and your shade.  Here you are safe and sound.  Here you are not found naked and exposed in your sin, but fully clothed and beautifully adorned in the righteousness of Christ Jesus.  You are not spurned or cast away from His presence, nor relegated to death and the grave, but raised to Life in Him.

The Psalmist declares that the birds of the air find a nesting place at the Altar of God.  Those are not careless or throwaway words, but Words of the Spirit and of Life.  For it is here at the Lord’s Altar, little bird, that you find your nesting place.  Here are you fed, and here do you live.

The Lord your God is gracious and merciful, He is full of compassion and great kindness.  And this is the Home He has made for you.  So it is that, living to and from this House of the Lord, you do bear good fruits after His own kind, wherever in the world He has planted you — according to whatever sort of tree He has created you to be, whether you are big and tall or short and small.  As surely as the Lord has gotten Life for you by His Tree, and as surely as He gives you Life from His Tree, so surely does He cause you to live and grow and flourish in the Kingdom of God forever.

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

06 June 2021

Christ Jesus Is Your Champion Against Satan

It is a sobering fact that, not only are you unable to believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him by your own reason or strength, but you are likewise unable to discern or recognize the difference between God and the devil by your own intellect, wisdom, or sensibilities.  Apart from the Word and Spirit of God, you confuse good with evil and blaspheme against the Lord who has come to save you.

At the heart of the problem, you don’t even realize how ignorant and wrong you are.  Instead, you are quite confident of your perceptions and opinions, feelings and conclusions.  Yet, presuming to know God and His Will apart from His Word is the root cause of all the sin and wickedness and evil in this fallen world.  It is precisely what led Adam and Eve into sin, when they disregarded and disobeyed the clear and certain Word of God, deferring to the devil’s voice and their own senses.

We dare not attribute anything to the Holy Spirit apart from the Word and promise of the Lord, as He has spoken concerning the Church and Ministry of His Gospel and concerning your calling and stations in life.  Absent His Word, anything that claims divine inspiration or authority is not from God but from the devil himself.  No matter how sincere, well-intentioned, or self-righteous you might be, heeding voices that do not confess God’s Word will lead you away from Him into sin.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to recognize the voice and temptations of Satan in your life — whether you take the devil seriously or not — because the voices in your own head, that inner dialogue you carry on with yourself, and all the insights and interpretations of your sinful heart and mind are in cahoots with the devil.  That’s why the story of the Fall into Sin is so familiar — not only because you’ve heard it repeated so many times, but also because it keeps on playing itself out in your life.  It seems obvious enough in retrospect, but it’s not so obvious at all when you’re in the middle of being tempted.  The forbidden fruit, whatever its variety, appears beautiful and good for food.

So you take the bite.  You fall prey to the snares of the devil, you fall into sin, and you lead others into temptation right along with you.  And then, instead of fleeing to the Lord and His mercy, you run away and try to hide — ashamed of your nakedness and afraid to admit that you have sinned.  Instead of confessing your sins and seeking forgiveness, you come up with excuses for yourself, and you resort to blaming your neighbor, the devil, or God Himself for your faults and failings.

It’s still the same ol’ same ol’ story.  You are no different and no better than your first parents.  The devil has done his job cunningly well, not only tempting you and leading you into sin, but then also blurring the picture, confusing the facts, and turning everything inside-out and upside-down.

This morning’s Holy Gospel is a case in point.  Christ Jesus, our great Champion against Satan, is accused of being in league with Satan.  By that move, those who are supposed to be the religious leaders and teachers of Israel blaspheme the Holy Spirit.  So, then, things are not as they appear.

It is only by the Holy Spirit that you are able to recognize the Lord Jesus for who He truly is — and to recognize Satan and his temptations for what they actually are.  You cannot rely on your own faculties or filters to decipher the facts of the matter; otherwise, like the Lord’s own family at that point, you will terribly misjudge Him.  It is only by the preaching and hearing of the Word of Christ Jesus, where and when it pleases God, that the Holy Spirit works the fear and faith and wisdom of the Lord in your heart, mind, body, and soul, lest you be deceived and die in your sin.

Our Lord’s entire Ministry was a demonstration of His approaching victory over Satan.  Everything He did was a fulfillment of that first promise in the Garden — the promise of a Savior, the Seed of the Woman, who would crush the serpent’s head, obtain forgiveness, and restore life to Man.

Christ Jesus is engaged in combat with Satan from the first, especially as He is driven by the Spirit from the waters of His Baptism to be tempted by the devil in the wilderness.  As the true Man, He resists the devil with the same Word of God that you are also given in the Holy Scriptures and in your Holy Baptism.  But there is more.  As the very Son of God in the flesh, His presence marks the beginning of the end for Satan and his demons.  Whenever He heals the sick or raises the dead, He is already in the process of restoring life and vitality to all mankind and the whole of creation, thereby undoing the curse of sin and death.  Whenever He forgives sins, He exercises in advance the Absolution of the Fall by His Cross and Resurrection.  And whenever He casts out demons — a trademark of His Ministry in the Holy Gospels — He shows that He has come to “clean house.”

So, too, in His little Parable this morning, the one about the strong man’s house.  For the Ministry of Christ Jesus — His forgiveness, His miraculous healings, His exorcisms — it is all a binding of the “strong man,” Satan, that Jesus might plunder his possessions by the Cross and Resurrection.

That victory of Jesus over Satan, sin, and death, is likewise the point of His descent into hell, as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed.  It’s not that Christ Jesus must go there to suffer — for His suffering is perfectly fulfilled on the Cross.  But Jesus descends into hell as a declaration of His triumph over the evil one.  He boldly enters the strong man’s house to thumb His nose at the devil, to spike the football in the in-zone and run a victory lap with the standard of His Cross held high.

Now, then, from that same victory of His Cross, the Ministry of Christ Jesus and His Holy Spirit advances throughout the world, as an ongoing defeat and destruction of the devil and his demons.

The very same Ministry of Christ Jesus that is recorded and revealed in the Holy Gospels continues to this very day — and to this very place — in the Liturgy of His Holy Word and Sacraments.  Indeed, the stories of Jesus that we hear and tell are not just ancient history, “once upon a time.”  That is not the point at all.  Wherever on earth His Church is found, His story is still happening.  That very thing is indicated, just a few verses prior to this Holy Gospel, when Jesus gives His own authority to the Twelve Apostles, “that He might send them out to preach, and to heal sicknesses, and to cast out demons.”  Which is to say that the casting out of demons, as mentioned in the case at hand, is a Ministry of Christ and His Spirit which continues in the ongoing life of His Church.

So, how shall you respond?  The Lord Jesus Christ is with you here in the Liturgy of His Gospel, in the preaching of His Word and in His Holy Sacrament.  He is no less present for you, here and now, than He was for the people there and then.  And it is still the case that, wherever Jesus enters in, Satan is bound and cast out.  But how shall you respond to all these great and mighty wonders of the Lord, as He comes to you here with His forgiveness of your sins, with Life and Salvation?

There’s no need to guess at the response.  The Word of God describes what it will be — what it has always been, and what it will continue to be, whenever the Gospel of Christ Jesus is preached.

There are basically three responses, each of which is found in this Holy Gospel from St. Mark:

There are those, first of all, who hear and receive the preaching of Christ Jesus by the grace of His Holy Spirit.  They recognize that He is their Savior.  They recognize their sins, but they know and trust His mercy and forgiveness, so they warmly embrace His Word of Absolution or forgiveness, even though it is spoken by a human pastor.  They rejoice in their Holy Baptism, as a rich and full washing away of all their sins, even though they see nothing else than water.  And they hunger and thirst for the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, though all their senses perceive are bread and wine.

These are the people who are gathered in a circle around Jesus, hanging on His every Word, and looking to Him with childlike faith and trusting hearts, which are the gracious gift of His Spirit.

But there is another group of people — who hear the same preaching of Christ Jesus and partake of the same Means of Grace — who yet regard the Lord and His Ministry as foolish nonsense.  This preacher is “out of his mind!”  That was the evaluation of Jesus’ family and friends in this Holy Gospel.  They loved Him with human affection, but they did not embrace His preaching because it did not fit their preconceived notions of family and church and life as they knew it.

I suspect that many if not most of the people in this country who self-identify as Christians really belong to this second group.  They think of Jesus as their “friend,” but they’re embarrassed by much of what He says and does, and they would just as soon not be seen with Him in public.  In much the same way, His Church may be important to them, in a quaint, old-fashioned sort of way, but family and country come first; those are the priorities around which they organize their life.

Such are the people in this Holy Gospel who look for Jesus “on the outside,” that is, apart from His Church, apart from His Liturgy of the Gospel.  To be sure, they may be sitting in the pews on any given Sunday, bodily present — yet all the while their hearts, minds, and spirits remain elsewhere.  You don’t have to look far to find that group; you should simply examine yourself and repent.

There is then another group, with a third sort of response to Jesus, and you are not immune to this way of thinking and acting, either.  You find them here in the scribes and pharisees who came down from Jerusalem — who left the Temple and the Word of God behind — who went so far as to say that Jesus was Himself possessed by the devil.

In this accusation they the sin against the Holy Spirit — a sin which, so long as it persists, cannot be forgiven.  It is to identify the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Christ Jesus, with Beelzebul, the prince of demons.  Not only is this a horrible blasphemy, it is deadly to faith and life and damnable in its outright rejection of the Lord God Himself with His forgiveness, life, and salvation.  There can be no forgiveness for the ongoing denial and rejection of the very Spirit who breathes and bestows the forgiveness of sins in, with, and through the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

It is not the case that this sin, alone among all others, is simply “so horrible” and “so great” that no forgiveness could be had.  By His Cross and with His precious Blood the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, takes away the sins of the world.  As He says, “all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter.”  But those who harden their hearts against the Word and work of His Holy Spirit are thereby refusing and rejecting this very forgiveness of the Christ.

Those who are guilty of this unforgiveable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit — so long as they persist in their unbelief and refuse to repent — they are the vessels of wrath who are held in the possession of Satan.  They may not look like wicked people, not like in the movies.  In fact, they might be outstanding citizens and belong to model families.  But blasphemy and unbelief remain the work of Satan nonetheless; they mark the citizens of his hellish kingdom and the members of his evil household, who are caught and held in the deadly grip of this “strong man,” Beelzebul.

That is where you would be and remain, as well, if not for your Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who enters in to set you free from the bondage of sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He is the stronger Man who still invades the house of Satan, binds him up, and plunders his “possessions.”  You could not set yourself free.  In your native sinfulness, you did not even recognize your peril or want to leave.  But Christ Jesus has released you by the ways and means of His Cross, by His Word and Spirit.

Tragically, there are still a great many people who willingly choose to remain with Satan and reject the Lord Jesus Christ.  But, again, that is where each and every one of us would be, if not for the Holy Spirit, who calls you by the preaching of the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith — just as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps her united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

It is here within the Church — where He daily and richly forgives your sins with the Gospel of Christ Jesus, with His Word and Flesh — that the Holy Spirit strengthens your faith and preserves your life in Christ, body and soul, now and forever.  And here within His Church is where you have become and still remain a member of Christ’s family, His brother or sister — living in His House, abiding in His fellowship, hearing His Word of the Gospel, and breathing His Holy Spirit.

This then is your fortress, your shield, and your strength — against Satan, all his works, and all His ways — the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy of Jesus, wherein you receive the promise of His Gospel, today and all year long, and whereby your sins are all forgiven in His Name.

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

31 May 2021

The Lord Himself Visits You in Grace, Mercy, and Peace

Rejoice in the Lord your God.  Give thanks to Him for all His gifts and benefits, and praise His Holy Name.  Sing to Him with peace and joy and gladness all your days.  Glorify and honor Him, worship and adore Him with heart, mind, body, and soul, because He has had mercy upon you.

The Lord your God, the holy and almighty One, here comes to visit and abide with you in love.  As He once dwelt among His people Israel with His grace and His glory — by the way and means of His Tabernacle in the wilderness, and then within His Temple in Jerusalem — in the Ark of the Covenant and upon the Mercy Seat — so does the same Lord, Yahweh Sabaoth, now come to you and tabernacle with you in His own Body of flesh and blood, conceived within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Word and Spirit of God, in order to be your Savior and your God.

He comes by His Word and with His Holy Spirit, with all His grace and glory, in His true divinity and His true humanity, in both body and soul, hidden within the womb of His Church on earth.  And by His coming and His presence, by His gracious visitation, this house made with human hands is a priestly house, where you are met by God, and sanctified, and given life with Him.

The incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, comes to be with you, in order to bring you to His God and Father in and with Himself.  That is the goal and purpose for which He has created and redeemed you, and for which the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies you — and the whole Christian Church on earth — by the Ministry of the Gospel of the same Lord Jesus Christ.

By His mighty arm and outstretched hand He raises you up from poverty and weakness to wealth and strength, from humility and shame to glory and honor, from hunger and fear to contentment and full satisfaction, and from weariness and sorrow to perfect peace and Sabbath rest in Him.

The same Lord Jesus Christ defeats all your enemies and defends you from them.  He rescues you from every evil and brings you out of danger into eternal safety and security within the Kingdom of God.  He does not accuse you and condemn you, but He freely and fully forgives all your sins.  He does not punish or destroy you, as you have deserved, but He delivers you from out of death and raises you up from the dust of the earth in glory.  He recreates you in His Image for newness of life with Him, not only in your soul and spirit, but in your body, also, just like His own.

In Christ Jesus you are anointed and filled with the Holy Spirit, and you are bound to God the Father — as He is bound to you — by an everlasting Covenant, in a divine and holy Communion.

So it is that God, the Father Almighty, has spoken to you by His Son; and in remembrance of this mercy, He acts to do all of these good things for you, and to give you all of these great things in the Body of His Christ, conceived and born of St. Mary.  The One who promises is faithful, and He will do it.  Blessed are you, therefore, when you trust and rely upon His sure and certain Word.

It is by faith in His Word — by the Sound of His Voice — by the preaching of Christ Jesus — and not yet by sight or experience — that you are blessed by the presence of Christ and made brand new in Him.  So it was for St. Mary and St. Elizabeth, and so it is for the whole Church on earth.

You do not yet see the fulfillment with your eyes.  You can’t investigate it with your hands, in such a way the you could prove it.  You rather hear the promise with your ears, and it is by that promise that you live in hope and eager expectation.  With anxious longing you wait for the revealing of the sons of God, when you shall see your dear Lord Jesus face to face, and you shall be like Him.

For now, to be sure, you do not yet feel or experience the Resurrection.  You bear and suffer the Cross, within and without.  Poverty, hunger, weakness, and fear persist in this fallen world, in your own body and life and in your neighbors all around.  There are still tyrants on earth at every level, who rule with an iron fist and deal unjustly with those who languish under their abusive power.  The wicked still prosper, with impunity, while the righteous are persecuted and put to death.

Along with all of that, sin and death are still at work within you, in your mortal flesh and blood, and in your heart and mind, as well.  Your faith and love are not what they should be.  You doubt the Lord your God and the Word He has spoken.  You do not trust His promises, nor do you expect Him to do you any good.  You hurt and neglect the very people you should help and care for.  You are arrogant when you ought to be humble, and you despair when you ought to rejoice in hope.

Even so, do not wallow in self-pity, nor defend yourself in self-righteous pride, but repent, trust Christ, and live.   Do not be afraid of anything, but fear the Lord your God, and have no other gods before Him.  For He is with you.  Behold, He comes to visit you in His justice and righteousness.

Repent of your sins, therefore, and rejoice in His great and free Salvation.  For His coming does not depend on you, nor is it met with any worthiness of your own, but He visits you by grace, and He forgives your sins and gives you His Life according to His tender mercy and compassion.

In all events, He is here with you in this place, and that is most certainly true.

The Holy Triune God remembers His mercy and His faithfulness, and He fulfills His Word, in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son.  For He has permanently bound Himself to you, already by His conception in the womb of St. Mary.  Flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood, He does not deny or disown you, but He rejoices to call you His own kin, and He defends you.

He is not ashamed to call you His brother or sister, for He has atoned for all your sins, redeemed you from death, and justified you in His Resurrection.  He ever lives to make intercession for you as your merciful High Priest.  He sanctifies your body and soul by His Spirit through the Gospel.

If what you see and feel and experience in the here and now is the Cross and suffering, temptation, sin, and death, remember that He has taken all of that upon Himself and borne it in His own Body on your behalf, proceeding in faith and love, in humility and perfect obedience, even unto death.  Wherefore God, His Father, has raised Him from the dead and highly exalted Him.  And that which He has done for you, accomplished and received on your behalf, is now pledged and given to you.

So it is that His preaching of repentance wounds you, in order to heal you.  His Word and Spirit crucify and bury you, in order to raise you up and make you alive in Him.  He not only exposes and condemns your sins for what they are, but He calls you to faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  He puts to death the old Adam in you, in order to make of you a brand new man or woman; no less than He made of St. Mary a New Eve, and He Himself became a new and better Adam for us all.

This Lord Jesus Christ — with His mighty arm, with His great things and holy Name — is found here in this place where His Word has directed you.  Arise, and come in a hurry to find Him here within His priestly house.  Receive His gracious hospitality in the Liturgy of His Gospel, in the preaching of His Word and the celebration of His Holy Supper.  And give thanks for your fathers and mothers of faith, who are righteous in Christ Jesus and live in His Love to the glory of God.

The holiness of His Name is thereby demonstrated and bestowed upon you here, as He visits you in His divine grace, tender mercies, and perfect peace.  For those whom He calls and sends to go before His face — like St. John the Baptist, even from his mother’s womb — those men likewise announce the presence of the Lord and rejoice in Him by way of His Gospel; whereby you also, like St. Elizabeth, are filled with the Holy Spirit and rejoice in the Life and Salvation of Jesus.

Hidden here in the womb of His Church, the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God — conceived and born of St. Mary, crucified and risen from the dead — His Body and His Blood are here given and poured out for you to eat and to drink in the remembrance of His mercy.  For so does He fill the hungry with good things, and so does He feed you with these great things, unto the Resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting of your body and soul in and with Him.

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

30 May 2021

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth in the Word and Flesh of Christ Jesus

The genesis of the flesh is flesh.  The genesis of the Spirit is spirit.  But the distinction here is not between tangible and intangible things, nor between bodies of flesh and disembodied spirits.  The contrast is rather between that which bears the Spirit of God and that which does not.

Flesh that is filled with the Spirit of God is alive and living; whereas there are plenty of spiritual things that are contrary to the Word of God and therefore devoid of His Spirit and His Life.

By the same token, flesh apart from the Spirit of God is already in the process of dying, returning to the dust whence it was taken.  So shall it decay, disintegrate, and be destroyed.  It goes down to Sheol, because flesh that does not bear and live by the Spirit of God is idolatrous and covetous.  Such flesh hungers, not for the true and holy God, but for flesh like itself.  It is cannibalistic, and in its voracious and insatiable consumption it is consumed and comes to an end.

Though flesh attempts to feed upon itself, it is utterly unable to sustain itself.  It cannot survive on its own resources, nor will it manage to live for long on its own terms.  Flesh cannot save itself.

Without the Spirit of God, all flesh, including yours, is blind and in the dark, lost in a permanent nighttime of ignorance and unbelief.  It cannot see God, know God, believe in God, or go to Him.  It cannot ascend into heaven, nor can it enter the Kingdom of God.

More to the point, you are not able to know God or believe in Him by way of your own fallen flesh.  You are not capable of discerning or knowing heavenly things, far less can you get into heaven, by any way or means of your fallen flesh.  Without the Spirit of God, your flesh is undone.

But if your fallen flesh is confronted by the Holy, Holy, Holy God — apart from His Gospel — then you are undone all the more quickly, because you are not holy, you are sinful and unclean.

Therefore, God the Father sent His only-begotten Son into the world, in Love, in order to save the world through Him — in order to grant eternal Life to those, like you, who have not known Him.

As in the beginning, the Father speaks His Word into the darkness; and His Word is Light and Life and Love for the whole of His creation, because He speaks to you by His Son, Christ Jesus.

So it is that you see the Kingdom of God in Him, the Son of Man, who has descended from heaven for you and your salvation.  In Him, God has become Man, and the Word has become true Flesh.

How so?  It is by the Spirit of God, who overshadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary and conceived the Son of God in her womb, whereby He became flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood.

The New Adam was thus conceived and born of a New Eve by the grace of God, by His Word and Holy Spirit.  And in the Flesh of Christ Jesus the fall into sin and the curse of death are reversed.

Accordingly, the Signs that He does — like turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, and other such Signs of His divine Glory in the Flesh — are Signs of the New Creation in His Body.  This is the dawning of the eternal Eighth Day, the blooming of a brand new Paradise, and the New Birth of Mankind.  Jesus works and accomplishes all of this in Himself, but He does so for all of us and for our salvation, by the way and means of His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.

He does it all for you, and He alone is able to do it.  For this New Birth is harder than the first; indeed, it is impossible for the flesh apart from the Spirit of God.  It is harder than the usual labor and delivery of fallen flesh.  It is harder than entering again into your mother’s womb when you are old, as it is harder than putting a camel through the eye of a needle.  For the birth pangs in this case are those of the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus, the suffering and death of the Son of God in His own Flesh, the shedding of His holy and precious Blood in Atonement for all of your sins.

Ironically, His descending into death and the grave — into Hades and Sheol — coincides with His being lifted up and His ascending; for He offers Himself up to the Father as the Sacrifice for the sins of the world, and He rises like sweet-smelling Incense in peace and reconciliation with God.

He has fully borne your sin and death in His own Flesh.  But His Father has received and accepted His Sacrifice.  His Father has raised Him up again from death to life.  And His Father has poured out the promised Holy Spirit upon Him — upon His Body, crucified and risen, and into His Flesh.

Consequently, His bodily Resurrection from the dead is the New Genesis — a new beginning — and He is the New Adam by whom all the children of God are born through His Church on earth.

It is the Holy Spirit who accomplishes this New Birth in you, by putting you to death and raising you to a new life in and with Christ Jesus.  That is what repentance is — being turned inside-out, being turned away from your sin and death to faith in Christ and His forgiveness of your sins.  By such faith you see and know God in Christ Jesus, and you live with God in Him forever.

The Spirit works the dying and rising of this New Birth and New Creation in your body and soul by the earthly Means of Grace, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the whole Ministry of the Gospel.  This is the Voice of the Spirit — this is the Sound of the “Wind,” which you can hear but cannot see — and it is by this Voice of the Gospel that the Spirit is actively present and at work with all His gifts and graces.

This Spirit of the Lord, this Author and Giver of Life, speaks by the cleansed lips of those who are called, ordained, and sent in the Name of Christ Jesus.  And in this way the Spirit is then breathed into man — into fallen flesh — through Holy Absolution.  You know that, right?  Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit; if you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.”

And by this forgiveness of the Gospel, by this breathing of the Spirit into you, you are no longer dead and dying, but alive and living; you are not undone, but cleansed and healed and made new.

It is like the coal from the Altar of Incense — that little golden Altar in front of the Holy of Holies, where the Incense was burned in the presence of God, rising into heaven as the prayer of Israel — it is like that coal, which touched Isaiah’s lips and cleansed him from iniquity, so that he could go and preach the Word of the Lord to Israel, unto repentance and faith in the coming Christ Jesus.

And so it is that from the Cross, on which the Lord Jesus Christ has been offered up in death as an acceptable Sacrifice for you and all, and as a sweet-smelling Incense in the presence of God, a new and better “Coal” is now given, by which you are forgiven, that you might live with God in Peace.

From the Altar of His Cross the Lord Jesus touches your lips with His Body and His Blood, and by these Gifts you are forgiven all your sins, you are cleansed of all iniquity.  You shall not die but live.  And so shall you also speak the Name of the Lord your God, and call upon His Name, and praise His Holy Name in the midst of His Temple, within His Church on earth as it is in heaven.

By the whole Liturgy of the Gospel Christ the Crucified is being lifted up before you in this place — into your ears and into your mouth — unto faith and life in Him, in both your body and soul.

By your Holy Baptism in His Name, you are born again of water and the Holy Spirit.  You are put to death, crucified, and buried with Christ Jesus, and so raised with Him to newness of life.  Thus, you are a child of God in Christ, and you live as a child of God by grace through faith in Him.

As the Son of God was conceived and born of the Woman, in order to become true Man — and as He has risen from the dead, risen from the dust of the earth, the Firstborn from the dead, the First Fruits of the New Creation — so are you also born again from death to life, as a son of God in Christ Jesus, anointed by the Holy Spirit for everlasting Life with God the Father in Paradise.

You thus know the true and only God, not as a doctrinal abstraction, but as your own dear Father.  You know Him as your Father in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, who is your Brother in the flesh and your Savior from sin and death.  And you know your God and Father in His Son by the Spirit whom He has given you by and with His Word, who breathes in you the very Life of God.

You know the Holy Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, here and now in this Holy Place, at this sacred Altar, sanctified by His Presence.  You know God in the hearing of His Gospel, His forgiveness of all your sins.  You know God in the eating of the Body of Christ Jesus, and you know Him in the drinking of His Blood.  For the Word and Flesh of Christ are Spirit and Life.

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