04 December 2019

Your Priestly Vocation in Christ Jesus

Since the Lord your God has called you to a royal priesthood in Christ Jesus, by virtue of your Holy Baptism into Him, you should know what your priestly service is and how to perform it, that you might pray and confess His Holy Word and offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to His holy Name.

From St. Luke this evening you have heard the culmination and fulfillment of the Aaronic Old Testament priesthood, as it comes to the realization of its purpose in the duties of Zachariah and in the promise and conception of his son.  All of this, along with all that has come beforehand, points to the coming of the Christ and prepares His people to receive Him and be united to Him.

It is in Christ Jesus, our merciful and great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek — not a son of Aaron but the Son of David — it is in Him that the Lord’s people enter into His divine and holy presence, into the true Holy of Holies, in holiness, righteousness, and peace.  And that is what the Priesthood, the Tabernacle, and then the Temple were always all about, from the very beginning.

Likewise, the morning and evening sacrifices, as well as the incense offering that coincided with those daily sacrifices, were always about the Christ who was to come in the fullness of time.  Those gracious gifts of God the Lord were both a prayer and a promise of the great Salvation He would bring about and accomplish by His Incarnation, by His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.

Every morning and every evening, when the sacrifice was made on the altar of burnt offering in the outer courtyard, the appointed priest within the Holy Place would offer the incense on the golden altar that stood before the veil, before the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant.  The sweet-smelling incense that filled the Temple and ascended to the Lord not only accompanied but actually embodied the petitions of Israel for redemption: That God would restore the oracle to the service of His House, and that He would gather the scattered into His courts, to keep His statutes, to live according to His Will, and to serve Him with their whole heart.

These are the petitions that Zachariah is offering with the incense in the Temple when the Angel Gabriel appears to him in the presence of the Lord and declares that his prayer has been heard and is being answered.  And the evidence that it will be done entirely by the grace and power of God is provided in the way and means by which He goes about it: He gives a son to this old man and his barren old wife, and He provides a name for the boy, John, which means, Yahweh is gracious.

It is with St. John the Baptist, the son of Zachariah and Elizabeth, that the Gospel itself begins, because he is brought into existence, called by God from the womb, and sent as the Forerunner who goes before the Face of the Lord to prepare His way.  For the good and gracious gifts of God cannot even be received or accepted in faith except by the preparation that He provides through the preaching of His messenger!  The Lord Himself works all in all, from start to finish.

So, then, it is by the preaching and ministry of this priestly son, St. John, that the Old Testament priesthood ushers in the Christ to whom it has always pointed.  St. John is the oracle of the Lord, who preaches the Law and the Gospel unto repentance and faith, and who thereby turns many of the sons of Israel away from their sins and death and back to the Lord their God.

He is called by God the Lord, already from his mother’s womb, to preach and to practice a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And, as you know, not only does he baptize the people with such a baptism, but he will also baptize Christ Jesus Himself, the Lamb of God, unto His own Cross and Passion.  It is in this way that St. John anoints and offers the Lamb unto the Lord for the propitiation of the sins of the world.  Not that John is worthy or even able of himself to do so, but according to his office and vocation, by and with the Word and Spirit of the Lord who sent him.

As the Christ enters and emerges from the waters of His Baptism, so is He crucified, dead, and buried, and so does He rise from the dead and ascend to the right hand of His Father in heaven.  He thus descends into the depths of Sheol, and He ascends to the heights of the heavenly places, in order to become the Sacrifice and the Incense by which He brings you and your prayers to God.

St. John, the priestly son of Zachariah, is the instrument of the Lord’s mercy in bringing this about.  But it is the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who alone is offered and received on your behalf, who thus fulfills and accomplishes all things for you and your salvation.

In His own human flesh and blood, the One who is baptized by St. John the Forerunner is a great High Priest forever, who sacrifices His own body and life and sheds His holy and precious blood, once for all, as the Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the whole world.

By that Sacrifice of Christ Jesus, beginning in the waters of His Baptism and perfected on His Cross, His Body and His Blood have become the priestly Food and Drink, the Holy Communion Meal of the perfect Peace Offering, by which His priestly people are bound to Him in fellowship.  Not only for His Israel of old, but also for you and for all who are baptized in His Name.

The same Body and Blood of the one Lord Jesus Christ, which are given and poured out for you from His Altar in the Temple of His Church on earth, are also, at the same time and forevermore, the sacred and sweet-smelling Incense and the great High Priestly Prayer that ascend to the highest heavens, into the true Holy of Holies made without hands, into the ears and the nostrils of His own God and Father.  As He feeds you here with Himself, and as He preaches peace to you here by the Ministry of His Gospel, so does He never stop interceding for you and petitioning for your Peace and reconciliation with the Father in heaven, who sits enthroned upon the cherubim.

By these ways and means of Christ, as you receive Him into your body through the ways and means of the Gospel — in your ears, and in your hands and mouth — so do you also enter with Him, in His Body of flesh and blood, into the presence of God in perfect Peace: By repentant faith in His free and full forgiveness of all your sins; by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension; and by your participation in the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood.

United with Christ Jesus in both body and soul by these gifts of His Gospel, you do belong to the royal priesthood of His Body, the Church.  Which is to say that, much like St. John the Baptist, but within your own particular place in this world, your body and your life are a priestly sacrifice of thanksgiving and a priestly service of prayer and confession.  You thus offer to the glory of God and for the good of your neighbors what you have yourself received from the Lord by His grace.

What that means and looks like, at ground level, is that you are daily put to death and daily raised to a brand new life by repentance and faith in the Gospel.  And that is not simply a mental activity, nor it is a self-help exercise of your emotions.  It is rather to hear and heed the preaching of the Word of the Lord, the Word of Christ Jesus, from those messengers who are sent to speak it to you.

Your Christian priesthood is then also to serve the duties of your office and stations in life, as in the very presence of the Lord your God.  To know what that means for you, specifically, consider your place in the light of the Ten Commandments, as the Catechism has taught you to do.  And so live and do as God has commanded: Love and cherish, honor and serve your spouse, your parents, and your children, your brothers and sisters (within your own home and family, and in the Lord); and love your other neighbors, as well, as you are given to do in each case by the Word of God.

Because this life of faith and love is lived and offered as a priestly sacrifice, it bears the Cross and suffers patiently for the sake of Christ Jesus.  Which is to say, not simply that you put up with it, but that you boldly confess His Cross in gentleness and reverence, in courtesy and peace.

Whatever disgrace and shame you may experience from other people, do not measure the grace and favor of God by your outward circumstances, but by the Word and promise of Christ, by His Cross and Resurrection.  So, for example, Zachariah and Elizabeth bore the Cross of having no children for all those long and many years, though they were indeed righteous in the sight of God by faith in His Word; and by such faith, they lived according to His Word within their vocations.

That is the character and content of the priestly life and priestly service, the “liturgy of life,” so to speak, to which you also are called by the Spirit of God through the preaching of His Word.  It does involve the doing of your duties, but it is always the case, at all times and in all places, that it depends upon the hearing of the Word of Christ, by which you believe, and by which you pray and confess the Lord your God.  As the Father speaks to you by His Son, so by His Holy Spirit do you speak that same Word in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  You speak as an oracle of God.

That you might learn to speak and sing that Word of Christ, the Word-made-Flesh, the Lord does for you, as He did for Zachariah, the very thing that we have prayed in the evening Psalm: He sets a watch over your mouth, and He guards the door of your lips, lest your heart be inclined to sin by speaking the false confessions of doubt, despair, idolatry, and unbelief.  For words are powerful — as you hear them, and as you speak and rehearse them out loud — whether for good or evil.  What you mutter to yourself under your breath, what you gossip to and about your neighbors, and what you spew in the unguarded passions of anger or lust, it all wreaks havoc against your faith.

In the case at hand, Zachariah was disciplined to wait upon the Lord, to listen to His Word, and to watch for the fulfillment of His promises.  And in due season, after many months of silence, he was able by the Spirit to speak the Word of the Lord both to and for his little son, St. John.  In the same way, you are called to silence, first of all, that you might hear and learn the Word of Christ, and then, by His Word, to confess His Cross in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection.

Indeed, it is by the grace and Spirit of Christ Jesus that everything you do and say as a Christian becomes a confession of His Cross and Resurrection.  By His Word, all of your words and actions, your body and soul, your heart, mind, and spirit, are consecrated for priestly service to the glory of His Holy Name.  From the font — from the womb of your Mother, the Church — you are holy and righteous in all things, without any blame or fault in the presence of your God and Father.

For the Word that God speaks to you by His Son is more than simply “true.”  It is the Truth, upon which the heavens and the earth and all of creation are brought into being and perfected.  It is the sure and certain promise of what is to be, of your tomorrow and forever, because it has already been fulfilled and accomplished for you in the Body and Blood of your Savior, Christ Jesus.

He has humbled Himself, even unto death, and He has been exalted by His God and Father on your behalf, as your merciful and great High Priest, so that you should be exalted in Him.

His Blood, shed upon the Cross, has atoned for all your sins forever.  And with that Blood, in His own Body of flesh (just like yours), crucified and risen from the dead, He has entered the Most Holy Place, behind the Veil, where He ever lives to intercede for you before the Throne of God.

In order that you should be and abide with Him there in the presence of the Lord your God, both now and forevermore, He also feeds you with His Body and His Blood here at His priestly Table, and thereby nourishes you in your body and soul, unto the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting.

Therefore, take heart, and do not be afraid, dear child of God.  Not only is your petition heard and answered for the sake of your dear Lord Jesus Christ, but, as you belong to Him, a member of His Body and Bride, His royal priesthood, so do you stand with Him before your God and Father in Peace.  Even now by faith in the Gospel, and forevermore in Christ, you live and abide with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in that true Temple of God which is the very Body of the Lamb.

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

01 December 2019

Wake, Awake! Your King Is Coming to Save You!

Child of God, it is high time for you to wake up, to rouse yourself and shake off your sleepiness.  Get up and pay attention.  Watch and wait upon the Lord, fully alert and constantly vigilant.  Open your ears, and open your eyes.  Can you not hear?  Do you not see?

Now is the appointed time.  The Hour is at hand.  Today is the Day of Salvation.  That is why you are here, and that is what you are here for.  There is no other point or purpose.  Here is the Lord with His Word and in His Flesh and Blood.  He is faithful and just, and He has salvation for you.

Listen to His voice, and consider what He says.  Hear the words of His Prophets, and give attention to the doctrine of His Apostles.  Heed His preaching of repentance, and receive Him in faith and love.  For, behold, your King is coming to you.  He is both David’s Son and David’s Lord, and He is here to save you, to redeem you from all evil, and to grant you peace and rest in His Kingdom.

He is not a king like those who rule the nations of the world.  His almighty power is manifest in voluntary weakness.  He comes not with macho bravado, but with gentle compassion and tender mercy.  He rides no mighty stallion, drives no iron chariot, and carries no weapons of war.  Meekly mounted on a donkey, He comes with only the Breath of His Mouth, the Sword of His Spirit.

He comes to slay the wicked, that is sure and certain, but He does so by the shedding of His own Blood.  He disarms the devil, that enemy of God and man, by sacrificing Himself on the Cross.  The Lord Jesus gives Himself as the Propitiation for the sins of the world, to make Atonement for us all, to redeem us from sin, death, and hell, and to reconcile us to His God and Father in heaven.

It is by the way of His Cross that He has come to give Himself as the Ransom for the many, and it is by His Cross that He comes to you now, at this Hour, on this Lord’s Day, within His Church.

This truly is the Lord’s House, the heart and center of His Holy City, the New Jerusalem, on earth even now as it is and ever shall be in heaven.  That is because He is here with you with His Word; and by His Word the Fruits of His Cross are distributed here, which are indeed the First Fruits of the New Creation, given and poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of sins.

He has established His Church on earth, and so also on the corner of Milton and Dale right here in South Bend, as a city on a hill, as the highest of the mountains, in order to call and gather the nations to Himself — by the repentance of His Cross and Resurrection, unto the Life everlasting.

Within His Holy Christian Church He catechizes you in His ways — by His Word of the Cross, by His Life-giving Holy Spirit — that you might live and walk in His paths of faith and love.

Therefore, walk properly, as in the day, and not as a nighttime carouser.  Put away the works of darkness and all the lusts of your flesh.  Put away your pornography, your fornication and adultery.  Put away your gluttony and drunkenness.  Put away your love of money, your craving for material things, your hunger for entertainment, and every distraction that pulls you away from the needs of your family, friends, and other neighbors, whom the Lord has placed alongside you in this life.

Put away your toys, whatever they may be, whenever they would otherwise prevent you from good works of loving service.  And put away all your chasing after pleasure, wherever it would prevent you from prayer.  Indeed, put away all the selfish passions of your sinful flesh, that you might live and walk in the light of Christ Jesus.  That is to fear, love, and trust in Him above all other gods, and so also to live in love for your neighbors, as Christ the Lord ever lives in His love for you.

The Law of love is simple enough: Do no harm to your neighbor, but help him as you are able.  That is to do unto others as your dear Lord Jesus does for you.  So, then, dress yourself in Him, adorned with His righteousness by faith.  Wear Him on your sleeve, so that all your neighbors round about might see His good works in you and glorify your God and Father in heaven.

Christian disciple of Jesus, the Lord has need of you.  Not the “need” of any lack or deficiency on His part, but the need of His grace, mercy, and compassion for you, and for your neighbor, also.  He would have you share the burden of His Cross, as He has borne the Cross for you, that you might share His life and His glory — and that you should thus also share His love for others.

Whatever your particular calling and station in life; whatever your age; whether you are still a student in school, actively employed, looking for a job, or living in retirement; whether you are a boy or a girl, a child or adult, married or unmarried — the Lord has good and worthwhile work for you to do.  He has a meaningful purpose for your body and life, even if you cannot always see or understand the good that He would do in you.  He calls you simply to perform the duties of your place in life — to do so in faith toward Him, and in love toward others — and to be content with whatever He would thus accomplish in you and through you by His grace.

But the Lord Jesus also knows that you are pretty tied up, entangled within yourself and in this world of sin.  You were conceived and born in bondage to another lord and master, and by your sinful nature you are frequently ensnared by that dark lord’s enticements and driven by that cruel master’s whip.  You cannot set yourself free, nor can you cover up your shame.  You are found either naked in your sin or dressed from head to toe in the devil’s prison garb.

So Jesus sends His disciples to loose you from your bonds.  He has seen you from afar, He has known you and loved you before you ever knew of Him, and He has sent His men to set you free from the ropes and chains that bind you — from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  According to His Word, they find you where you are, tied up outside and useless, and they release you.

To that end the Lord sends two of His disciples, called and ordained to be servants of His Word, to bring you to Himself.  At His divine command, they clothe you in the garments of discipleship by the catechesis of His Word and the washing of water with His Word and Spirit in Holy Baptism.  They set the Lord Jesus Himself upon you — His sign of the Cross upon your forehead and your heart, His Flesh and Blood upon your body and soul — and so also His forgiveness of your sins.

There are those disciples of the Lord Jesus who thus go before Him, before His face wherever He Himself shall come.  And then there are those disciples who follow after Him in faithful service, young and old, from nursing babes and infants to old men and women with grey hairs or balding.

Some are simply swept up in the crowd and carried along after Jesus.  Do not underestimate the power of positive peer pressure and the infectious attraction of sincere faith and love.

Your children and grandchildren are watching you, as well as your friends and neighbors, and they observe your enthusiasm for and commitment to the Church and Ministry of the Gospel.  If they follow you in curiosity, thank God when they get caught up in the crowd that praises Christ Jesus.

Others may not heed the crowd, be it large or small, but in single-minded devotion they lay down their possessions, their bodies, and their very lives, in the way of the Cross of Christ.  Such holy martyrs (of all times and places) are also an example for you, that you might consider what is of real lasting value and importance, as compared to that which is fleeting and fading away.

But it is not by any choice or decision of your own that you become a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Nor do you enter with Him into His Holy City by any striving or works of your own.  For it is not by any righteousness of yours that the Law of the Lord is accomplished and fulfilled.

In truth, your sinful flesh does not possess the faithful heart of a disciple.  You cannot choose what is good and right by your fallen reason or mortal strength.  Conceived and born in sin, you have no love in you that does not begin with an idolatrous love for yourself.  As such, far from fulfilling the Law, you cannot even begin to bear its weighty burdens.

The demands of the Law are simple enough, no doubt; and yet they are impossible for you.

No, it is not you, but Christ the King who has fulfilled the entire Law in His love for you and for all people.  It is in that righteousness of His that He has come into His City and to His House, even here and now, having salvation for you, which is yours by His grace through faith in His Word.

This coming (this Advent) of the Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Law, because He comes in selfless love for His neighbor.  In the fear, love, and trust of His Father, He comes in love for you and all.  He thus enters into His glory, and He becomes your King, by coming in humility and gentle obedience, and by submitting Himself to sacrificial death upon the Cross on your behalf.

He has suffered Himself to be your Beast of burden, who has borne both you and all your sins in His own Body.  Your sins He has thus put to death by His Cross; but you He raises from the dead in His own Resurrection by the way and means of His Gospel.  Daily He does so, again and again.

This Gospel — which is the Lord’s forgiveness of your sins and His free gift of salvation — this Gospel is the Light of Christ that now shines forth within and from His Church on earth, always from His Cross.  For, again, this surely is the Lord’s House in the City of our God, the chief of all the mountains, to which all the nations are called.  To which you also are called again today.

It is this call of the Gospel that rouses you and wakes you from your stupor, and raises you up from the sleep of death to the life of God in Christ, in order to live and walk in the way of His Cross.

It is this Light of the Gospel that shines upon your path, enlightening your heart, mind, and spirit, so that you are not swallowed up by the darkness of the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh.  Not that you ever hit your stride perfectly in this valley of the shadow of death, but that your King comes striding in to live and walk beside you, to save you and sustain you with His forgiveness.

The darkness that otherwise reigns within you and all around you is dispersed by the glory of this King and the brightness of His rising, which is the preaching of His righteousness.

For here He comes to you in love, no less so than when He came into Jerusalem to take up His Cross and suffer His Passion.  And here He gives Himself to you in perfect peace, so that you might find your Sabbath Rest and your everlasting joy in Him.

He comes to you here in gentleness and meekness, riding the donkey and colt of a chalice and a paten, little more than a simple cup and saucer, but thereby to feed you with His own holy Body and His holy, precious Blood, as the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away all of your sins.

Rejoice, give thanks, and sing, all you sons and daughters of God in Christ, and welcome Him in holy faith and holy love.  Lay your old garments aside under His feet, as you are fully clothed and covered by His righteousness and holiness, all by His grace.  And hail His gentle mercy toward you by loving one another in His Name, as He calls and gathers you together to be one Body in Him.

Here now, beloved of the Lord, let us walk in the Light of Christ Jesus.  Form a procession up to His Altar, and lay hold of Him there.  For He is your gracious King, your one true God, your Savior and Redeemer, your benevolent Lord and Master.  He is the Son of David, who comes to save you now.  Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

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

27 November 2019

Returning Thanks through Jesus Christ Our Lord

Thanksgiving is fundamental to and distinctive of the Christian faith and life.  It is of the first priority, in so far as your words and actions are concerned as a child of God in Christ.  For it is with thanksgiving to God that you confess the faith, and pray, and live in love for your neighbor.

Such thanksgiving on your part corresponds to the gracious providence and good gifts of God.  You return thanks and praise to Him for what He has already done and given to you; for all that He has promised to do and give, which is already sure and certain in His Word; for His loving discipline, as a father for his son; for His call to repentance and His forgiveness of all your sins.

In mercy and in love for you, He catechizes you to live by faith in His Word, to live by everything that proceeds from His mouth, as the Father speaks to you by His Son, and as the Son breathes His Life-giving Holy Spirit upon you by His Gospel.  He teaches you and trains you to recognize and receive His gifts with thanksgiving, and so also to call upon His Name and to wait upon Him in hope, looking to Him in expectation of good things.  He calls you and guides you to walk in His ways, to keep His commandments, and to give yourself in love to and for your neighbor.  This is how you live and multiply and possess the good Land which the Lord has pledged and provided.

At the same time, there is a leprosy (of body and soul) which cuts you off and shuts you out, which reduces you and renders you impotent, and which finally puts you to death.  It separates you from God and man, from Church and state, from house and home, from family, friends, and neighbors.

It is the leprosy of sin, which not only lacks but actively opposes faith and love and thanksgiving.  It brings about doubt and despair, on the one hand, and yet promotes prideful arrogance on the other hand.  It both drives and is driven by selfishness, self-reliance, and self-righteousness; all of which is worse than futile, because it accomplishes nothing but anger, anxiety, and further alienation, not only from those whom you are called to love and serve, but likewise from everyone who would love and care for you.  That is what the leprosy of sin achieves.  It does not rise up in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving; it rather erupts in outbursts of rage, either verbally or bodily violent, and it vents itself in terrible temper tantrums, in cursing, swearing, lying, and deceiving.

There is no happiness, peace, or rest in your leprosy of sin.  There is only a nagging, gnawing, desperate want, dreadful sadness, bitter loneliness, and relentless death.  You exist and function outwardly, but you’re as good as dead on the inside, and you are always dying (inside and out).

That is the situation in which you find yourself, and from which you cannot and will not escape, until the Lord Jesus enters in to save you, to rescue and redeem you, to cleanse and sanctify you.

Christ Jesus comes to you, makes His way to you, and addresses your deep and desperate need.  He confronts you with His Word and Flesh, and you are met with His holiness in response to your uncleanness.  And, to be sure, He disciplines you, humbles you, and calls you to repentance.  But He does so, not to shame you, discourage you, or punish you, but to catechize you and to bring you from death to life, from the desert wasteland into Paradise, and from the outskirts into His House.

He approaches and draws near, this Lord Jesus, not only to expose and reveal your need, but also to provide what you need.  He draws near to you, that you might draw near to Him.  He has gone outside the wall and gate in order to find you, the outcast, and to gather you back into His Holy City, the place where His Name and His Glory dwell, and really to enfold you to Himself.  He does not recoil in fear and loathing from your unclean flesh.  He does not retreat and run away from your blemished body of sin and death.  He embraces you in love with His own Flesh and Blood.

He does break your heart of stone, that is true — that you might recognize and receive Him as your God in the Flesh.  So does He speak to you in love, and by His Word He opens your lips to call on His Name and show forth His praise; to confess what He has spoken to you; to worship and glorify Him by faith in His Word; and to give Him thanks for all His tender mercies and great salvation.

For all that, He is and does far more.  He is your merciful and great High Priest.  And as such, it is not that He ignores your leprosy, nor does He merely remove its outward symptoms, but He actually takes your leprosy of heart, mind, body, and soul upon Himself, into His own skin, into His own flesh and blood; and with His own Body and Life He cleanses you of all unrighteousness.

He sacrifices Himself to atone for all your sins, and He reconciles you to His God and Father in Himself.  He establishes the way of real life and true righteousness in His Body and Life as the true and perfect Man.  He lives and dies for you in the way of faith and love, which He in turn gives to you and makes your own by His Word of the Gospel, by His Word of forgiveness and peace.

He continues to give Himself to you, as He has given Himself for you in His death upon the Cross.  So does He also bring you out of death into life, and to the Father, in and with His Body of flesh and blood.  Which is to say that He is not only the Priest and the Sacrifice, but His Body is the true and eternal Temple of God, wherein God abides with you — and you abide with God in Him.

So, then, here is what that looks like and what it means for you.  Your worship and prayer, your praise and thanksgiving are focused and centered in Christ Jesus.  Not abstractly or randomly, but in the hearing of His Word to you, in the receiving of His Body given and His Blood poured out.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the primary Liturgist, the true Preacher and Celebrant of the Divine Service.  He is the One who worships the Father in Spirit and Truth, that you might worship in Him.  He is your prayer, your thanksgiving, your living sacrifice, and your sweet-smelling incense, who offers and gives Himself to God for you, and who is received by the Father on your behalf.

He is your faith and love, your righteousness and holiness, your peace and hope, your joy and happiness, your confidence and courage, your compassion and charity.  Which is both why and how you now live in love for your neighbor; especially for your fellow Christians, your brothers and sisters in Christ, but also for those who are estranged, who are still wandering on the outside.

You are set free from the shackles of your leprosy.  You are no longer shut out and barred from the House, from the City, from the good Land of the Lord your God, but you are at home with Him in His Church, within the Body of Christ, your Savior.  You belong to the household and family of God.  You are a citizen of His Kingdom, and you are safe and secure in the Mighty Fortress of His beloved Son.  Here you are well-fed and well-provided.  You lack no good thing, nor shall you ever.  No matter what you suffer in the wilderness, you shall not die, but you shall live with God.

Therefore, as your dear God and Father in Christ Jesus has given you this body and life on earth, you are free and able to give this body and life to and for others, in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection and the Life everlasting of both body and soul.  You already know the good Land which the Lord has sworn by His own Name to give you, and He will surely bring you into it.

In truth, in the Body of Christ you have already entered into that good Land, and you live and abide in it by His grace through faith in His Gospel.  For Christ is yours, and He is here with you, with the same crucified and risen Body that makes heaven the Paradise it is.  His Church on earth flows with milk and honey from the Cross, the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden; and she is wealthy with the jewels and precious gems of His Passion, the treasures of His Gospel, the water from His side, His Body and His Blood, the outpouring of His Spirit, and His Holy Absolution.

The beauty and the glory of it all, for now, is hidden and mysterious in, with, and under the Cross.  And it so often seems elusive, as though you never will be able to find it or reach it or have it.

But, now, wait upon the Lord.  He shall open His hand to satisfy all of your needs and desires, and He shall give you the true Meat and Drink indeed in due season.  Even now He gives to you this sacred Manna and spiritual Drink, which are His own true Body and His holy, precious Blood.

By this Food, by this Meal, this Feast, you lack nothing at all, but Christ feeds you with Himself — yes, even here and now — that you might also abide with Him, both here in time and hereafter in eternity.  For as surely as you eat this Body and Blood of the One who sacrificed Himself for you, who died and rose again, who ascended to the Right Hand of the Father and ever lives to pray and intercede for you, so do you dwell in the Lord’s House, in His good Land, forever and ever.

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

24 November 2019

Today You Are with Christ Jesus in Paradise

Jesus remembers you today, and you are with Him in Paradise, because He is here with you in the midst of the great tribulation.  His Tree of the Cross is not only green, even as winter approaches, but it is fruitful and life-giving; not “in spite” of His suffering, but precisely by and from His innocent suffering and death.  His Body and His Blood are the First Fruits of the New Creation.  And as the Church Year begins with the coming of Jesus into His Holy City on Palm Sunday, so does it conclude with His Holy Cross and Passion, which are the heart and center of all things.

Therefore, daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Him; sons of Israel, do not mourn His death.  Rather, weep and mourn for your sins, for which the Lord Jesus willingly suffers, sheds His blood, and dies.  And sorrow for your children, who have inherited your sins and your mortality.

Sons and daughters of Adam & Eve, weep and mourn over your fall into sin, over your disbelief and disobedience, and over your departure from the Lord your God and from His Garden.  Weep and mourn over the death and decay of God’s good creation, which bears the burden of your fault and suffers the sorrow of your trespasses and sins, the stain of your iniquity and disobedience.

And yet, do not succumb to despair and hopelessness, despite the attitude and actions of this fallen and perishing world.  The days have long since come when they say that the barren are blessed to have no children, and many now choose to make themselves barren on purpose.  The wombs that do not bear and the breasts that do not nurse are considered fortunate and free.  What a sad and striking contrast to the joys that we cherish and celebrate here at Emmaus, as we pray and give thanks for the children who are born among us, baptized, and brought up in the faith of Christ.

But it’s not as though we are naive to the challenges and difficulties that face mothers and fathers, marriages and families, in the bearing and rearing of children in this body and life.  Indeed, there are sacrifices at every stage, and we are bombarded with the contrary rhetoric of the world with its criticisms and complaints.  Surely it is tempting to wonder whether it is all worthwhile.

You bear your burdens and struggle to do your part, but in the meantime you cannot see whether it matters one way or another.  Whether you pray or not seems to make no difference.  Whether you are righteous or wicked is of no obvious or immediate consequence, unless it be that the righteous suffer want while the wicked appear to flourish and prosper at the expense of the righteous.

Satan taunts you, and he tempts you, as he dared to tempt Christ Jesus: If you are a dear child of God, then why this, and why that?  Why do you go hungry?  Why are you so poor and so alone?  Why must you suffer?  Why must your job be such a pain?  Why is your marriage so stressful, and why are your children ill-mannered and disobedient?  Or, why do you have no spouse or child?

The devil hurls these assaults and accusations against you, against the Words and promises of your Holy Baptism, and against the forgiveness of the Gospel.  After everything that God has said, the devil puts a big question mark: “Really?”  “Did God really say that?”  And with that he drives you to doubt and despair concerning both the Lord your God and yourself.  Perhaps God is deceiving you, or else unable to help you; or you’ve not done enough or done it right, so why should God even bother with you, unless it be to punish you severely for your depravity and failure?

Thus are you caught in this great tribulation, which rages all around you, and roars in your ears, and batters your heart, and confuses your head, and wearies your soul.  The choices set before you seem utterly bleak and futile.  Either God is not good enough, or you are not good enough.

If God is not good enough, or if He isn’t even real, then why bother with anything in particular?  You might as well do whatever you want, and it won’t matter, anyway.

But you know that’s not true.  God forbid that you should fall into such perdition.  God forbid it, and God forgive you for all such doubts and fears wherever you have entertained them.

But what about yourself?  Are you good enough?  Have you done enough?  Have you done it all just right?  Have you kept your nose clean?  Have you given enough?  Have you prayed enough?  Have you loved enough?  Have you believed enough?  And do you believe all the right things?

These are impossible questions, but the answer to each and all of them is, “No, you have not.”

You are a sinner, first of all, from the inside-out, before you have done anything.  And as a sinner, all your thoughts, words, and deeds are sinful.  Even the best of what you manage to do is filthy with your sin.  And the harder you try to make yourself righteous, the more sinful you become.

The root of the problem is not your bad behavior but your faithless heart.  You do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  You do not rely on Him and look to Him in faith for all that you need, expecting only good things from Him.  Instead, you bargain and maneuver and negotiate, you plot and you strive to make some kind of compromise or cut some kind of deal with Him.

And there is always this hesitancy and reservation in the way you approach and relate to God.  You do not entrust yourself to Him, but you offer what you think you can afford, what you figure you can live without, as much as you think it will take, but as little as you think you can get away with.

Why do you not tithe?  Is it because there is no Law that says you must?  Because you don’t think you can afford it?  Because you are not thankful for what you have?  Because you do not trust the Lord to provide all that you need for both body and soul, for this life and the Life everlasting?

Why do you not bring the whole tithe into the stores of the Lord’s House, in order to support His Church and Ministry?  Why do you not give the first fruits of your labor and your income to the Lord your God, in order that His House should be well-supplied with food and drink?

Instead of trusting and relying on the Lord to forgive your sins and save your life, you imagine that you must save yourself — as if you ever could!  That is the devil’s satanic seduction, which he throws into your face and whispers into your ear, as he did with Christ Jesus in the wilderness, at Caesarea Philippi, on the Cross, and at all the opportune times and places in between.

Unlike the Lord Jesus, you listen to the devil’s lies and temptations instead of to the Words and promises of God.  You rehearse the devil’s thoughts, instead of God’s.  You confess his lies to yourself and to others.  And you act as Satan urges, instead of living as the Lord has commanded.

Is it not robbery and theft to live your life as though it were your own possession, when it is the Lord who made you, and not you yourself?  Is it not criminal to horde those things which God has entrusted to your stewardship, and to use them as though they were your own by right, instead of using those treasures and talents to serve your neighbor and to support the Lord’s Church?

Daughter of Jerusalem, son of Israel, child of Adam & Eve, repent of this robbery and theft.  Own that you are a criminal, deserving of nothing but punishment, and be crucified with Christ, who numbers Himself with such transgressors.  For so has He numbered Himself also with you.

Fear the Lord your God, your Maker and Redeemer.  Fear the Lord, who willingly suffers the punishment that you justly deserve.  See in His Body crucified the wages of your sin and the price of your Redemption.  And hear His Word to you, His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Despair of yourself, to be sure, but do not despair of Him.  Rather, hope in Him, in His Cross, in His Body and His Blood, in His Church and Ministry, His Gospel and His Spirit.

Do not suppose that the wicked will always prevail, nor that the righteous are forgotten.  For the Lord Jesus remembers you, even in death.  And this same Jesus is risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in His eternal Kingdom.  He lives and reigns forevermore.  And all this He accomplishes for you and your salvation, in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours.

He is the true and perfect Man, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, in order that you should live and abide with God the Father in Christ, the incarnate Son, as He abides with you.

He surely does save others.  He is the Savior of the world, and He is your Savior.  But He does not save Himself.  Instead, He lives by perfect faith in His God and Father.  He loves Him and trusts in Him, and He prays to Him in confidence, even in the face of death and the grave.

He brings the whole Tithe into the Lord’s House, and far more than 10%.  He offers up Himself, His whole life, His Body and soul, His flesh and blood.  He is the spotless Lamb who suffers and dies in the place of His people, and who by His sacrificial death atones for all their sins, including all of yours.  He is the sweet-smelling Incense that fills the Temple with the very Peace of God.

And He is the Food, the Meat and Drink indeed, which fills the Lord’s storehouse and feeds His entire Church in every time and place, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down.

His faith was not misplaced, His faithfulness was not in vain.  Though He was numbered with transgressors and crucified as a criminal, cursed upon the Tree between two guilty robbers, His righteousness is vindicated and openly declared when God the Father raises Him from the dead.

And because He is your King, your Savior, and your Head, His Resurrection from the dead is also your resurrection, your vindication, and your righteousness.

That is your sure and certain hope as you bear the Cross and suffer and die.  That is your sure and certain hope, your righteousness and peace, although you are a sinner, a robber, and a thief.

But do not for that reason continue in your sins.  Rather, in the hope of the Resurrection, repent, trust Christ, and live.  Be crucified, dead, and buried with Him, in order to live with Him in His Kingdom, here and now by faith within His Church, and hereafter in His Paradise forever.

Trust Him by hearing His Word and calling upon His Name in prayer.  Trust Him by doing the work that He has given you to do, bearing your burdens in love, patiently and without grumbling.

Trust Him by forgiving those who sin against you, by loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you, by turning the other cheek and gladly doing good to those who hurt you.

Trust the Lord to vindicate you, to defend you and speak well of you, just as He has declared you to be righteous by His Gospel.  Trust Him to uphold the good Name with which He has named you.

Whatever your circumstances here and now may be, trust that He will surely save your life from death, and feed and clothe your body, and shelter and protect you.  For He has given Himself for you, and in His Church He freely provides you with all of the best and most permanent things.

Here He clothes you with His righteousness and covers you with Himself.  For He was stripped naked, and His garments were divided, that you might be dressed with that which is His.  Here He feeds you with His Body and gives you to drink of the same Blood with which He has redeemed you and reconciled you to His God and Father forever.  So has He made His House your home.

Here, indeed, you are with Him in Paradise, because the Fruits of the Tree of Life are freely given without cost, and the Waters of Life are generously poured out for your cleansing and refreshment.

Here the Lord Jesus remembers you by coming to you in and with His Kingdom.  He remembers you with His Word of Peace, His Gospel of forgiveness.  He remembers you with His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you to eat and to drink, unto eternal Life and Salvation.

By these Fruits of His green Tree, you are with Him in Paradise.  And as surely as you are crucified and die with Him by your Baptism in His Name, so surely do you rise and live with Him forever.

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

03 November 2019

Sons of Abraham by Faith in Christ Jesus

In His Parable last Sunday, the Lord Jesus depicted a tax collector who confessed his sins, prayed for mercy, and went home from the Temple justified.  And now, in this morning’s Holy Gospel, we hear of the tax collector, Zaccheus, who is forgiven and justified by the same Lord Jesus Christ.  Thus are you catechized by the example of his repentance and faith, and you are strengthened in your own faith and life by the demonstration of the Lord’s mercy toward him.  He is more than just a character in a story or a parable.  As Jesus declares, this wee little man is also a son of Abraham.

That is not simply an affirmation of his genealogy; no one could dispute that, although Zaccheus (as a tax collector) would surely have been regarded as a traitor to his native people.  But, no, as St. Paul indicates in several of his Epistles, the true children of Abraham are those who share the faith of Abraham — faith in the promise of the Christ who was coming — now faith in the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ who has come.  Zaccheus was granted such faith, and by such faith he is a son of Abraham.  Indeed, by such faith he is a son of God, and so is he your brother in Christ.

This story of Zaccheus, like so many of the stories of Holy Scripture, is the story of real life in Christ — the story that you also share with those who have gone before you in the confession of His Name.  In this respect, the Holy Gospels are not only the revelation of God in Christ, but also a revelation of Christ in His saints, a commemoration of those who lived and died by faith in Him, who now live forever in His crucified and risen Body.  So shall He be glorified in all His saints on the Day of His appearing; and then you shall see Him as He is, and you also shall be like Him.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the Right Hand of the Throne of God.

So does the Epistle to the Hebrews conclude its lengthy commemoration of the Old Testament saints who lived and died by faith in the promised Seed of the Woman who would come in the fullness of time and crush the serpent’s head.  And so do we also remember with thanksgiving the faithful departed on this Sunday of All Saints.  As one Body in Christ, we rejoice in our fellowship with those who have fought the good fight and finished the race, who now rest from their labors.

To avoid misunderstanding and superstition, let us be clear about our relationship with those dear saints who have gone before us.  We do not worship the saints or pray to them for help in this body and life on earth, but together with them we worship and pray to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We do not remember them or pray for them with doubt and fear, but we give thanks in the confidence of faith for the life that is theirs in Christ, our Savior.  Though we love them as fellow sons and daughters of Abraham, we trust not in the saints but solely in the Son of God.

How is it, then, that we commemorate the faithful departed in accordance with Holy Scripture?

If not for abuses that have at times developed in the history of the Church, this would be a fairly simple question.  For though we do not pray to the saints for their help, we do look to their faithful example for encouragement in our faith and life on earth.  And though we do not worship them, we do remember the saints with thanksgiving toward God, who has done such marvelous things for them and us.  And again, we rejoice in the fellowship that we share with them in Christ Jesus.

Our Lutheran Confessions likewise describe a threefold honor that is rightly given to the saints:

First, we should give thanks to God for showing examples of His mercy in the lives of the faithful departed, thereby revealing His will to save both them and us, and at the same time giving these saints to be our teachers and fellow Christians in His Church.  We praise God for giving these gifts to His people; and we praise the saints themselves for their faithful stewardship of His gifts.

Second, we honor the saints by the strengthening of our faith and confession with the witness of their repentance and forgiveness — as in the case of St. Peter following his denials of Christ.

Third, we rightly honor the saints by imitating their Christian faith and life within their callings: first of all their faith in Christ, and then also the good works that flowed out of their faith in Him.

In all of these things, our focus is fixed on Christ Jesus, who alone is All in All.  Just as St. John sees in the Book of the Revelation, the entire host of heaven is circled and crowded around the Lamb upon His Throne, all eyes riveted on Him.  The saints are rightly honored, then, when we consider them as living “stained-glass windows” through whom the Light of Christ is reflected and shines on us.  They all have their own unique colors and patterns within their particular callings and stations in life; but all the while, Christ is the Sun who shines upon them all, thereby casting their colors and patterns upon us.  For their steadfast faith and their good works are not a product of their own reason or strength but exhibit the presence of Christ and the work of His Holy Spirit.

Certainly Zaccheus is a good example of these things, first of all in his desire to see and hear Jesus, no doubt because he has already heard the word concerning this Man from Nazareth; then, also, in his receiving of Jesus into his home; in his repentance and faith; in the forgiveness of his sins; in his reparations for the wrongs that he has done against others; and especially in the declaration of Jesus that he, too, is a son of Abraham by faith.

It is that very same life as a “son of Abraham” that you also have received by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.  And the same thing is true of those whom we remember today, who departed this life in the faith of Christ over the course of this past year.  You will not recognize the names of all these people; probably there are many of them you never knew in this body and life.  But these, too, are the sons of Abraham, as are you.  And together as one body in Christ, as the family of God, we have one-and-all received the inheritance of faith, in which we live and die and live forever.

For the time being, of course, the blessed life that you live by faith in Christ includes the Cross and suffering, just as it did for those who have gone before us in the confession of our crucified and risen Lord.  But you may greatly rejoice even in this, precisely because it is a share in the Cross and Suffering of Christ Jesus.  If you have died with Him, you know that you also live with Him.

As you struggle though this life under the Cross on your pilgrimage to heaven, you are able to find comfort and take strength from the witness and example of the faithful departed, the saints of old as well as those who have been near and dear to you in this body and life on earth.  Not only are their lives a reflection of the Christian faith, but even more, their victory in Christ over death and the grave is a powerful witness and encouragement as you struggle feebly on.

Thus, as in the Epistle to the Hebrews, we remember and give thanks for the saints who have gone before us, that we might see in them a demonstration of the Christian faith and life.  And by the testimony of so great cloud of witnesses, you are indeed encouraged to fix your eyes on Jesus.

The confession and faithfulness of the faithful departed, in life and death, are set before you as the evidence of our dear Lord’s faithfulness toward them — and so also toward you and all of God’s people.  That is what the Greek word for “witness” really implies.  It is a legal term, not only for a person who gives testimony, but for the evidence that is brought forward and placed on exhibit.

The saints who have gone before us have thus become the living “exhibits” of the Lord’s great Salvation — accomplished and fulfilled in Christ, and so also manifested in the bodies and lives of His Christians.  Their repentance and faith, their confession and absolution, their words and works of love within their callings, and their persistent prayer and worship in the Name of the Lord Jesus, are the evidence that the Kingdom of God has come and is at hand in the Body of Christ.

What is more, you already share a blessed “communion” with that great cloud of witnesses — a common unity in the one Lord, Jesus Christ — especially as you are gathered here at His Altar for the Lord’s Supper.  In the words of one familiar hymn, “The saints on earth and those above but one communion make; joined to their Lord in bonds of love, all of His grace partake.”  For the “communion of saints” is not some “pie in the sky,” but a Banquet set before you here and now.

It is, indeed, the ongoing, neverending Feast of Christ, which you are given to share with Christ — already here on earth — in the company of angels and archangels and all the host of heaven.

Certainly, it is no coincidence that we are given to sing of this heavenly reality in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Nor is it merely poetry when we join with all the saints and angels in singing the “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  For here in this place the Lord Himself, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, is present in the utter reality of His human flesh and blood.  He is here to feed you with Himself, to join you to Himself — not only in some sort of abstract “spiritual” sense, but in the truly spiritual fact of His sacrificial Body and Blood.  Nothing else would be enough, since you also are of flesh and blood, and His salvation is for you, for both your body and your soul.

So Christ is present here with you and for you; and wherever Christ is, there is the greatest glory and blessing of heaven itself.  Indeed, in the words of another beautiful hymn, heaven itself would be void and bare if the Lord Jesus were not present.  But He is here with you in His Body given and His Blood poured out for you to eat and drink, granting you forgiveness for all your sins, and bestowing on you His Life and Salvation.  And because those who have departed in Christ are with Him forever, you can rejoice in their presence here with you, as well — closer now than ever.

It is, therefore, truly meet, right, and salutary, that our worship here on earth should blend with theirs in heaven, as we are gathered around the Lamb upon His Throne.  He feeds us here at His Altar with a gracious preview and a foretaste of that very same Feast which they enjoy throughout eternity in His Kingdom.  And in our grateful response, we sing with All Saints the majestic hymn that is chanted forever in heaven: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.  Blessed forever is the Lamb of God.  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”

All glory, honor, thanks, and praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

27 October 2019

Going Up to the Temple as the Children of God in Christ Jesus

Fathers, teach your children to pray, to worship the Lord, and to sacrifice themselves in faith toward Him, in love for each other and for their other neighbors in the world.  Do not wait to do it, but teach them to pray already while they are yet little babies — even in the womb and at their mother’s breast — by praying with them and for them.

Teach your children to worship the Lord their God by teaching them His Word, by speaking it to them, and by confessing it for them and with them.  And teach them by the example of your own worship of faith and love.  Go to church and take your children with you.  Do not hinder or prevent them, but indoctrinate them with God’s Word and the preaching of it.

Bring your children to the Lord Jesus, that He might touch them, heal them, and save them in the waters of Holy Baptism and with His own Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.  Then also teach them to pray in the remembrance of their Baptism and in the confession of Christ the Crucified, by teaching them to make the sign of the Cross, especially when they are afraid, but also when they rejoice in His rescue and give thanks for His great salvation.

Teach your children to sacrifice themselves in the faith and confidence of Christ Jesus and in love for their neighbors, also by the example of your own self-sacrifice.  Set aside your own wants, desires, and pleasures, in order to meet their needs and care for them.  Love their mother and lay down your life for her, day by day, as the Lord Jesus Christ loves His Bride and gives Himself freely for her.  So may your sons and daughters learn from you, not only what it means to be a godly husband or wife, a godly man or woman, but what it is to be a Christian, a member of Christ’s Church, and a child of His God and Father.

Teach your children humility by humbling yourself.  Teach them to master their sins by your own self-discipline and daily repentance.  Teach them to fall upon the mercies of God in Christ by confessing your sins and availing yourself of the Gospel in the Lord’s ways and means of grace and forgiveness, including His gift of Holy Absolution.  Let such confession and absolution shape and define your Christian faith and life, your piety and practice, not only within the life of the church but also in your home and in all of your relationships.

Wherever you have done wrong (and, yes, you have done wrong), acknowledge your faults, apologize, and make amends as you are able.  And where others have sinned against you, be ready and willing, eager and quick to forgive them — and gladly do good to them.

Where you have sinned against your children — by harshness or neglect, by impatience or inattentiveness, by unreasonable demands or unfair punishments, or by whatever faults of temper, words, or actions you have done — humble yourself under the Lord your God, apologize to your children, who are also His dear children, and seek their forgiveness.

Do not seek to justify or excuse yourself, but let Christ alone by your Savior and Redeemer.  And so love all your neighbors, big and small, both young and old, family, friends, and foes, the brilliant and the daft, the successful and pathetic, all for Jesus’ sake.  For they, too, shall be saved, not by any righteousness, merit, or worthiness of their own, but solely by the righteousness and mercy of Christ Jesus — the very same righteousness and mercy, of the same Lord Jesus Christ, by which alone you are justified and saved from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  That is the source of your own humility and confidence of repentant faith.

If you exalt yourself — if you trust in yourself and your own righteousness, as though you were a god — you will be humbled.  Pray that you are thus humbled before the Day of Judgment, when the time of repentance shall have passed.  Pray that the Lord in His mercy would humble you now, and each and every day of your life on earth, by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins; and that He would exalt you in His peace, as He has done for Frederick and Simon by way of Baptism and the Catechesis of His Word.

These two young men have come up to the Temple to pray, not in any righteousness of their own, but in the righteousness of Christ, by grace through faith in His mercy and forgiveness.  Not in competition, at odds, or with any contempt for one another, but in the peace of the Lord, as brothers in Christ Jesus within the Household and Family of His God and Father.  As children of God, their entire life is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to His Name.

When you know and confess that your life is from God, that it depends entirely on Him, that He gives you life by His divine grace, and that He preserves your life, not only here in time but unto all eternity in both body and soul — all by one and the same divine grace in Christ Jesus — then you comprehend the real meaning of life, and thus you are able to live before God in peace and hope, in faith and love, in graceful confidence and joyful satisfaction.

When you don’t get it — when you have not been humbled unto repentance and faith in the mercies of God — when you exalt yourself and attempt to justify yourself — then you are hounded and driven by fear.  You have no peace or joy, no confidence or satisfaction.  Not really.  You strive to keep the Law according to its letter; or else you avoid it as much as you can while tending to yourself and your own personal ambitions.  But the Lord has no regard for your self-righteousness.  He takes no pleasure in your selfish works.  And He has no delight in your sacrifices when they are offered as a bribe or as a buyout for your sins.

The harder you try to appease the Lord your God or to pay Him off in an effort to get Him off your back, the worse your situation becomes. Your self-righteous pride, indignation, laziness, and greed continue to grow and get worse, until they threaten to swallow you up and consume you altogether.  Such things are the heart and soul of sin, which entices and allures you, and yet, all the while it is really killing and destroying you.

In the futile agitation of your own self-defeating efforts, you grow more and more restless and angry with God.  You suppose that He’s unfair.  He just doesn’t like you, or so it seems.  “It’s not your fault, right? You’re doing your bit.”  But, since you can’t get even with God, and you cannot possibly compete with Him, you turn your anger and enmity, your hatred and vengeance against your neighbor.  You give yourself over to envy and jealousy and bitter resentment, to the point that you lash out at your neighbor, perhaps even your nearest and dearest kin, with hurtful words, or schemes to rob and steal, or outright bodily injury.

Make no mistake, as a child of Adam such sin is always crouching at your door, and its desire is to have you.  Resist it, and master it by contrition, repentance, and self-discipline.  Hear and heed the Word of the Lord and honor His commandments.  Love your neighbor by helping him, and by doing no harm to him in word or deed.  Examine yourself honestly and confess your sins, that you might hear and receive the blessed Gospel of forgiveness.

Pray that God the Lord would have mercy upon you, that you might live by His grace and rest in His peace.  Trust Him to provide you with all that you need, for body and soul, for this life and the Life everlasting.  And so understand that your possessions, your abilities, your time and energy, your treasures and talents, and your whole body and life on earth are a sacred trust, a divine stewardship of God’s good gifts, which He has given to you for the sake of likewise loving and serving your neighbor in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is how you sacrifice your crops and herds, your goods and services, your body and life.  In faith toward God you love your neighbor with all that you are and have, because your life is entirely from the Lord, in Him, and with Him; and it is lived unto Him at all times.

You are your brother’s keeper, as surely as the Lord Himself is your Keeper, your Maker and Redeemer.  Frederick and Simon and all your fellow Christians belong to you, and you belong to them.  And all of your neighbors are given to be objects of your love, as you are loved by God.  So, if you are poured out as a drink offering for your neighbor, keep the faith and finish the course in peace, as the Lord Jesus pours out His Lifeblood for you.  Give your body as a living sacrifice, and feed and clothe, shelter, and protect your neighbor’s body, as the Lord Jesus Christ feeds you with His Body and His Blood, clothes you with His righteousness, and shelters and protects you by His grace within His holy Christian Church.

The same Lord Jesus Christ stands with you in all hardship and adversity, in all your trials and temptations.  He forgives you all your sins and failings, strengthens your faith and love, and guards and keeps your body and soul in Him; He thereby delivers you from every evil and brings you safely into His heavenly kingdom.  This He surely does, and so shall He crown you with His own righteousness, because He has humbled Himself unto death and given Himself for your salvation; wherefore God the Father has highly exalted Him and given Him the Name above every name.  In Him you also are exalted and named by God.

As Christ has died for you and risen from the dead for you, and as He ever lives to intercede for you before the Throne of God — as He, your merciful and great High Priest, has entered the Holy of Holies made without hands on your behalf with His most holy and precious Blood — so does He bring you home, justified by His grace through faith in His Gospel.

The Body of this dear Lord Jesus Christ is the Altar upon which you offer your sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.  Not that you should thereby atone for your sins, but that you rather give all thanks and praise to Him because He has atoned for all your sins, once and for all.

It is in Him, and through Him, and with Him, and by Him, that you and your children and your children’s children pray and worship and sacrifice.  So are you and yours received as a pleasing sacrifice and sweet-smelling incense by your dear God and Father in heaven.  He has regard for you, for your prayer and sacrifice, for Jesus’ sake.  He lifts you up in mercy and sustains you by His grace, even through death and the grave, unto the Life everlasting.

In order that you be kept safe in this Life and Salvation forever, the Lord has set His mark upon you, His sign of the Cross upon your forehead and your heart, on your body and your soul.  Though you are a sinner, deserving of nothing but the punishment of death and eternal damnation, yet, by this sign of the Cross the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh are served notice that you belong to Christ the Crucified, your Savior and Redeemer.  He shall not only avenge whatever wrong is done to you, but He also forgives the wrongs that you have done; and at the last He shall vindicate you forever in the resurrection of your body.

Even though you die, yet shall you live, forever and always.  Indeed, the Kingdom of God belongs to such as you, because you are His own beloved child in Christ Jesus.

Come up here, then, to this Temple of Christ Jesus.  Receive the holy Body with which He feeds you and the drink-offering of His own precious Blood.  And pray in the peace and confidence of His sure mercies and forgiveness.  Offer here the sacrifice of thanksgiving, take up the Cup of Salvation, and call on the Name of the Lord.  He hears and answers your prayers, dear child of God, because you are justified by the Lord, the righteous Judge.

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

26 October 2019

The Top Ten Guitarists of the Decade

This past week, Guitar World magazine polled its readers as to the “Guitarist of the Decade,” erroneously supposing that the current decade will end as of 31 December 2019. Although there will actually be another year before the end of this decade, the poll did get me to thinking about the most significant guitarists over the past nine years (and counting). And while I have no doubt that others would arrive at different conclusions, I’ve compiled my own list of the top ten guitarists of the decade. Aside from appreciating and enjoying what they’ve already contributed, I look forward to seeing what they’ll do yet in the tent year of the decade. 1. Joe Bonamassa 2. Mark Tremonti 3. Slash 4. George Lynch 5. Gus G 6. Michael Schenker 7. Joe Satriani 8. Tommy Emmanuel 9. Paul Gilbert 10. Jack White Note: This is not a “lifetime achievement” list, which I would approach rather differently. It is rather a list of the guitarists who, in my opinion, have contributed the most and had the most significant impact in the course of the current decade (so far).