19 May 2024

The Spirit of Life in the Valley of Death

Whether you’ve been around and doing your thing for twenty years or one-hundred-twenty, apart from the Holy Spirit you are nothing but dust and bones, constantly returning to the ground from which you were taken. Apart from the Holy Spirit you are dead and dying; for you have no life in you — neither in your body nor in your soul — except by the Spirit of God, the Breath of the Lord.

But you have been created for eternal Life with God. That is why you’re here, and why you exist at all. Yet, you do not really live without the Spirit. Apart from the Spirit, you continue to exist, as it were, but at odds with God (your Creator, the Author and Giver of Life) and cut off from Him; which is no life at all but a persistent and eternal death, an eternal damnation.

In the final judgment, in the Resurrection of all flesh at the end of days, you shall be raised from the dust of the earth in and with your body. But if you have not received the Holy Spirit in your body of flesh and blood within your life on earth, and if you have not remained in the Spirit of Christ Jesus within this body and life, then you shall be raised, not for everlasting life with God in Paradise, but for the neverending death and damnation of hell in both your body and your soul.

In the meantime, your body is dying because of your sin, which is (at its heart) the rejection of the Word and Spirit of God and the worship of yourself instead of the Lord. You die, as all men die, because of your sin. You live at all only by the grace of God, who gives life and breath to all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, who causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good, and who gives daily bread also to all the wicked. But all of this is temporary.

The Spirit of God does not strive with man forever. He continues to strive with man for a season — as He has done for twenty years through Pastor Kolaskey’s ministry, and as He has done for more than one-hundred-twenty years in the life and mission of Trinity right here in Dillsboro — because of God’s love for man, and because of His desire that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. But that season of grace will come to an end in the hour of death and in the final judgment. Then everything will depend on whether you have received and borne the Spirit of Christ Jesus in faith, or denied and rejected the Spirit in sinful unbelief and idolatry.

The fact that you are presently dying and wasting away is a daily reminder of your sin, and thus a daily call to repentance. If you rely on yourself and persist in your sins, you will perish forever; for you cannot keep yourself from dying, and you cannot save yourself for eternal life with God. Even if you do not yet see it or feel it in yourself, consider the world around you. Do you not hear of death and destruction on a daily basis, both near and far? People get sick and die at every age.

Whether it be strangers in the news, or loved ones on their sick beds, or your own mortal flesh with all its frailties and flaws, you look about and find that you are set within the valley of the shadow of death, surrounded on all sides, within and without, by dried up bones returning to the dust.

In the very midst of all this death, your only hope is in Christ Jesus, who pours out upon you the living and Life-giving Holy Spirit through His Word of the Gospel. His Church and Ministry right here in your midst is a bastion and bulwark of Life over against the very gates of hell. And yet, you cannot see, perceive, or feel His Life and health and strength here with you. Despite the promises of God, all that you can see and feel in this world is dust and bones. So you wonder if there is any hope, or if you should give up in despair. Sadness fills your heart, sorrow permeates your spirit.

Can these bones live? These dead and dying bones of yours? These brittle and breaking bones?

Can you possibly be rescued in both your body and your soul, rescued from death and damnation, in order to live with the Lord your God in the good Land that He has promised, in the place that Christ has prepared for you, in His House, in the Kingdom of His God and Father? Can even you be raised from the dust of the earth to everlasting Life, though for now you are subject to death?

By the Word and Spirit of God, the answer is “Yes,” a loud and resounding “Yes” and “Amen.” By the preaching of Christ Jesus, you are raised up and rescued from death and the grave. Your sins are all forgiven by the grace of His Gospel, your death is undone. In the Body of Christ you belong to God the Father, you bear the Holy Spirit, and you live, body and soul, now and forever.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of God, anointed by the Father with the Spirit in His own Body of flesh and blood, conceived and born of St. Mary — the divine Word by whom all things are made — He has fully entered into your Death Valley. And there, by His Cross and Passion, by His innocent suffering and death, by the voluntary shedding of His holy and precious Blood, He has overcome the curse and consequences of sin, and He has won the victory for you.

He has come, this true God in the Flesh, this true and perfect Man, to bear your sins in His Body to the Cross, to suffer your death and the righteous judgment of the Law against the sins of the whole world, in order to reconcile God and Man forever in Himself, to receive and bear the Spirit in His Body, and to raise the sons and daughters of man from death to life in His Resurrection.

In perfect faith and holy love, He takes the full responsibility for your sins and hands Himself over to your death. In the confidence of His God and Father, He is crucified, dies, and is buried in the dust of the earth from which you are taken. He submits Himself to be cut off from the land of the living. He traverses the dark valley into the far country of death and the grave, even into Sheol.

For all that, appearances notwithstanding, He is not defeated in His death upon the Cross. The victory remains with Life, because God the Father does not abandon His Holy One, Christ Jesus, to Sheol. He does not leave Him to suffer decay, but raises Him and rescues Him from out of death.

Not only that, but in the Resurrection of Christ all the children of Adam are raised. The New Man is taken from the dust of the ground, and the Lord breathes His Life-giving Spirit into His Body. Thus are dead bones given new life, the dirt is remade in the Image of God, and man is saved for life with God in the Spirit. The whole Christian Church in heaven and on earth has life in Christ Jesus — and so also Trinity Lutheran Church in Dillsboro as a vital part of His Body and Bride!

As St. Peter goes on to say in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, when God raised Jesus from the dead He poured out His Spirit upon Him, just as the Father had done when the same Son, Christ Jesus, was baptized in the Jordan River. In each case, the Lord Jesus receives the Holy Spirit in His Body, that you might also receive the Spirit of God in Him, as a member of His Body, baptized in His Name. Thus are you sanctified in body and soul for the Resurrection and everlasting Life.

That is the whole point of your life as a congregation, and of your calling and office, Pr. Kolaskey: What Jesus has received on behalf of all people, you also now hand over and receive in Him by the Ministry of His Gospel, by His Word and Holy Spirit. The Atonement of His Cross has made it possible, and in His Resurrection from the dead all things are made brand new. He pours out the Spirit from the Father upon His Apostles and upon His Church, even to the ends of the earth — even here and now! — through the free and full forgiveness of sins in His Name. As all men die because all men sin, so by the Lord’s forgiveness of sins are all men made alive in Christ Jesus.

His own crucified and risen Body is the Firstfruits of the New Creation, to which you also belong by His grace through faith in His Gospel. As Jesus is anointed by the Spirit of God, so are you anointed by the same Spirit as a Christian. As Christ Jesus ascends to the Right Hand of the Father in and with His Body of flesh and blood, so are you and all His people reconciled to God the Father in the incarnate Son. You are seated with Him in the heavenly places, as He is with you here and pours out the Spirit upon you within the Household and Family of His Church in this place.

It is here in His Jerusalem, the City of God — in the Upper Room where the disciples of Jesus are gathered in His Name and according to His Word and promise — within the Church, the Body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all — it is here that the Father pours out the Holy Spirit generously upon you through Jesus Christ, His Son, by the pastoral Ministry of His Holy Gospel.

God speaks to you by His Son, and in doing so He breathes the Spirit into your body and soul, into your ears, into your heart, and into your mind, unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins. He calls you away from sin and death, back to Himself in Christ Jesus. He raises you up from the dust of the earth and calls you back to life in His Spirit by the Resurrection of His incarnate Son.

This preaching of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen — the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name — that preaching is the Voice of the Holy Spirit, the Voice of the Gospel. That is the “Noise” that Ezekiel heard in the valley of dry bones, the “Noise” of a mighty wind, such as the disciples also heard filling the Upper Room in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.

You cannot know or predict or see with your eyes where the Spirit is coming or going, but you do hear this “Noise,” this Voice of the Spirit in your own dear pastor’s preaching of the Gospel of Christ Jesus; and you are given to behold the work that your very dear Lord and Savior does and accomplishes by the preaching and ministry of His servant among you. Those who were dead in their trespasses and sin are raised up in faith to newness of life. Those who have succumbed to doubts and denials, perhaps even to despair, are delivered from the fear and the power of death and the devil. They are made to stand in confidence and hope, bold and courageous in the face of evil. They are sanctified in body and soul for life with God, both here in time and hereafter in eternity.

All of that is given to you by the forgiveness of your sins in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus. Thus do you have divine and real Life with God in Him, by the free gift of His Spirit, wherever in the world the Lord has stationed you in love. As Christ is risen from the dead and lives forever, so do you live by faith in Him, by His Holy Spirit, even here and now, regardless of appearances. Though dust and bones surround you and permeate your experience on earth, your body and life are not fruitless or futile. Your labors in the Lord are not in vain, whatever your vocation may be. In the work that God has given you to do, Christ bears in you the blessed fruits of His Spirit. You love and serve your neighbors in peace. You praise and glorify the Name of the Lord your God.

Thus do you also speak with new tongues by the Spirit of Christ Jesus, your Savior. That is to say, not only with your words, but also with your life, with your particular abilities and talents, with the work that you do, and with all that is in you, you glorify God and praise the Lord by confessing the Gospel of Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit who animates your life in this way, as a true doxology, no less so than He caused those 120 disciples to praise the Lord in all those many languages — and every year that you have lived by His grace in this place is yet another chorus of that doxology!

The Gospel itself is the “New Tongue,” as it is also the “New Song” that all God’s people sing in heaven and on earth. It is the Salvation of Christ that you confess, no matter what your language or profession, no matter your talent and skill. In confessing Christ, you speak as an oracle of God. Men and women, boys and girls, disciples of all ages, you all declare the glories of Him who called you out of the darkness into His Light, as the Spirit gives you utterance by the Word of Christ.

The confusion of tongues and the dispersal of the nations after the Tower of Babel is now reversed. Not by the restoration of a single common language, but by the confession of the one Holy Gospel, the forgiveness of the Cross of Christ and the righteousness of His Resurrection from the dead. For there is one Holy Spirit who has called you by that one Gospel of Christ, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified you in the one true faith — who keeps you steadfast in the Word of the one God and Father, in the one Lord Jesus Christ, in one Holy Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and in the blest Communion of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, on earth as it is in heaven.

It is the Spirit who lives and abides and speaks in you by the Word of Christ, so that you confess His Holy Name in all that you say and do. That is what you are given to preach and teach and confess, Pastor Kolaskey; and that is what you dear people of Trinity are given to hear from your pastor and to confess in turn. And it is by that Word and Spirit of Christ that the dead are raised up and gathered from all the nations into the Household and Family of God. Thus do they pray and confess the Name of the Lord, together with you and all the disciples of Christ Jesus, to the glory of God the Father. They also rejoice, give thanks, and sing with you and all Christians.

Beloved of the Lord, your life and your confession are not meaningless! The life that you live by faith in Christ Jesus, and the work that you do according to your calling and station, are the work of the Holy Spirit. For He is actively present and graciously at work in the Church and Ministry of His Gospel, that your dried up, dead, and dying bones should rise and live with God forever!

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

12 May 2024

The Comfort of the Holy Spirit in the Church and Ministry of Christ

This Sunday is unique within the Church Year, coming as it does between the Ascension of Our Lord (this past Thursday) and the Feast of Pentecost Day (one week from now). The joy of the Resurrection remains and prevails on this Seventh Sunday of Easter; yet, there is also the very real experience of sadness and sorrow in this world of tribulations, in the shadow of the Cross.

In the history of the Church, this Sunday (Exaudi) was sometimes called the Sunday of Roses, due to the custom of strewing the pavement of the churches with roses in homage to the Lord Jesus Christ, whose Resurrection and Ascension coincide with the blooming of spring flowers. And to be sure, the Ascension of Our Lord is a feast of victory and a celebration of joy and gladness, as He has raised up our human nature in and with Himself to the Right Hand of His God and Father.

But every rose has its thorns, and this day is not without its pain and anguish. It belongs to a time of watching and waiting on the Lord in the midst of sin and death, not only in the world around you but in your own mortal flesh and blood. As it was for the disciples then, so it is for you now.

By the Cross you are thus taught to pray, to call upon the Name of the Lord in the hope of His Resurrection: “O Lord, hear my voice,” let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. As the Liturgy calls you to lift up your heart, your mind, and your spirit to dwell upon your risen and ascended Lord, so do you call upon Him to come and abide with you here and now on earth.

Above all, your desire is (or ought to be) to seek and to see His face. But for now, the truth is that you cannot see Him — not with your eyes — not yet. Lifted up in glory, He has vanished and is hidden from your sight. It is rather in the preaching and catechesis of the Holy Scriptures, and in the Breaking of the Bread at His Table, that you must learn to seek Him and to see Him by faith.

As it is by faith and not by sight that you seek His face, so it is not by your own wisdom, reason, or strength but by the Holy Spirit that your ears, your heart, and your mind are opened to hear and believe the Holy Scriptures and to recognize and receive the risen Lord Jesus in His Holy Supper. For it is only by the Holy Spirit that you behold and know the Lord, God the Father in His Son.

As we pray and confess in the Collect this morning, the Lord Jesus has promised to send the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and the Consolation of His Church on earth. And so He does. According to His Word and promise in this Holy Gospel from St. John, Christ Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father to the chosen Apostles — and so also to all of His Christian disciples within His Church.

The Holy Spirit is not some vague feeling of optimism, nor is He an impersonal divine power. He is the Spirit of Truth, the third Person of the Holy Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and rests upon the Son — who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified as the one true God.

The Spirit testifies concerning Christ Jesus, who is Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That is what the Spirit does. So do the Apostles also testify to the one Lord, Jesus Christ, as they have been with Him from the beginning, from His Baptism in the Jordan River to His Ascension into heaven. They are the witnesses of His Life and Ministry, and of His Cross and Resurrection.

Indeed, it is through the preaching and the Scriptures of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit testifies to you and to all the people of God — even to the ends of the earth and to the close of the age.

So it is that you also, in due season, testify of Christ within your own office and station in life, especially with love and forgiveness, charity, and compassion for your neighbor, all by the Holy Spirit; for the forgiveness of sins is the primary means and the premier fruit of the Spirit. As you receive the Spirit in the forgiveness of your sins, so do you forgive the sins of others against you.

It is the Word of Christ that bestows the Holy Spirit; and the Spirit, by the preaching of that Word, testifies concerning Christ. He lays Christ upon your heart through that preaching, and He thereby calls you and brings you to repentance, to faith in the forgiveness of sins, and to newness of life.

In the preaching and ministry of His Word, therefore, both Christ and His Spirit are with you. Though hidden from your eyes, they are actively present and at work to comfort and console you under the Cross, unto the Resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting of your body and soul.

Meanwhile, Christ Jesus has returned to His God and Father by the way of His Cross and Passion. And His departure causes grief and sorrow, anguish, and pain to fill your heart and mind, because it appears and feels as though He has gone away, as though He has left you on your own.

What is more, His disciples on earth experience the Cross in their own bodies and lives. Indeed, to receive and share His Spirit is to bear and carry His Cross, to share in His suffering and death.

Throughout history and around the world, to this very day, in many and various ways, His Church and His Christians are subjected to hatred and persecution, both bodily and spiritually. Even now, your brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering loss and being put to death for the sake of the fair Name with which they and you have been named by the Word and Spirit of God in Holy Baptism.

But for all of that, do not be discouraged, and do not despair, but bear the Cross in holy faith and holy love, to the glory of God and the good of your neighbor, in the hope and confidence of Christ.

Bear in mind and take it to heart that the Cross of Christ and His departure to the Father have been necessary for your life and salvation. It is to your great benefit that He returns to the Father who sent Him, and that He does so by the way and means of His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.

In particular, were it not for the departure of Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete) could not be given to you: the One who is your Comforter, your Consolation, and your Defense Attorney.

Now, to clarify, this is not some kind of tag-team wrestling maneuver on the part of Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit! But the divine Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, could not be given apart from the Atonement of the Cross, nor apart from the righteousness of the Resurrection of Christ.

The Holy Spirit could not be poured out in fulfillment of the New Creation (in Christ Jesus) until the curse of sin and death upon the first creation was overcome. Neither could the Spirit comfort and defend you, except by the forgiveness, life, and salvation of the Cross, with which He testifies of Christ on your behalf against the accusations of Satan and the condemnation of God’s own Law.

The Spirit does not coddle you. He does not pat you on the head and tell you that it’s all okay. He does not wink at your sin and look the other way. And He does not get you off the hook through legal trickery, loop holes, or technicalities. It is rather by and for the sake of His holiness that He rescues and redeems you and all His people, His own creation, from the bondage of sin and death.

He is the Spirit of Truth, and so He testifies only what is True. He speaks in and with the Word of God, and not at all apart from it. He speaks the divine Truth of both the Law and the Gospel.

Thus, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus, the Spirit convicts the world — He convicts you — of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He condemns sin by the Word of the Law, which condemns you apart from faith in Christ. But He declares you to be righteous by the Word of the Gospel, by the Absolution of your sins, which is the Lord’s own verdict upon you, in accordance with the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus. So are you judged on the sole criterion of where and how you stand in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ.

All of this the Spirit does and accomplishes — in you, throughout the Church, and all around the world — by and with the Word of Christ the Crucified: As by the preaching and ministry of the Apostles in their day, so now by the preaching and ministry of the called and ordained servants of Christ Jesus who speak and act in His Name and stead to this very day and in this very place.

Anointed by the Holy Spirit, the ministers of Christ speak as the oracles of God, and they carry out the Lord’s own works by His divine authority, according to the gifts of His grace. In this way and by these means the Holy Spirit carries out His work of laying Christ upon your heart through the Gospel, and laying you upon Christ Jesus through faith in His Gospel.

So it is, by the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus, the Spirit puts you to death and raises you to newness of life. In Holy Baptism He has anointed you, once and forever, as a Christian, as a beloved child of God the Father. In the Holy Communion, the Spirit feeds your body and soul with the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus. And in Holy Absolution, the Spirit bestows upon you the very Life of God in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

None of this is set before you as anything that you must do or accomplish for yourself. Nor could you do so, in any case. It is the Lord who does it all for you, for the sake of His own Holy Name.

It has been and is accomplished for you, and it is given to you now, by the grace of God alone, by and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, who is your Savior and Redeemer, crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification, ascended as your merciful great High Priest.

Therefore, it is Christ whom the Spirit conveys to you through the Ministry of the Gospel, along with all the fruits and benefits of His Cross and Resurrection. And it is to the same Lord Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit leads you and guides you, by His Word and the preaching of it, through faith in His Word. So does the Spirit call you by the Gospel and gather you into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church: out of death into Life, out of darkness into His marvelous Light.

This is the great help and comfort of the Holy Spirit, His precious and prevailing work at all times and in all places: To bring the Son of God, Christ Jesus, from the Father in heaven to you here on earth, and to raise you up in the same Lord Jesus Christ. So does the Spirit replace your heart of stone with a brand new heart of flesh and blood; and He breathes Himself into your body and soul through the Word of Christ, so that you should not perish but truly live with God in faith and love.

Thus do you walk in His statutes, according to His Word within your own place in life, as a living testimony to Christ Jesus, to the glory of His Holy Name. And thus do you pray by the Spirit of God in Christ Jesus, calling on His Name. And your prayer is heard and answered, as surely as the Father has raised Christ Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His Right Hand. So shall you see His face with your own two eyes, from your own resurrected and glorified body of flesh and blood.

Already here and now, by the Ministry of the Gospel, the Spirit calls and brings you to the Father in Christ Jesus, to live with Him in the good Land that God has prepared for you and promised to give you. That is the Paradise which is pledged and given to you in the Word of Absolution, which declares God’s judgment concerning you, that you are forgiven, righteous, holy, and pleasing in His sight. And that Paradise is yours in the Body of Christ, in His Church and in His Sacrament.

Indeed, the Lord Himself is here with you in His Church on earth, that you should be and live with Him where He is, seated at the Father’s Right Hand in the heavenly places, forever and ever.

As the disciples gathered daily in the Temple of the Lord to pray, praise, and give thanks to the Father in Christ Jesus following His Ascension into heaven, and as they were gathered all together in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them, just as the Lord had spoken, so then, you also, follow their example in this body and life on earth in the face of sin and death.

If you would seek His face and gaze upon the beauty of your Lord, then seek Him where He is to be found, here in the Temple of His Church, in the preaching of His Word, and at His Altar in the celebration of His Sacrament, in the Breaking of the Bread in remembrance of Him. For His Word to you is Spirit, Truth, and Life, and His Holy Supper is your Spiritual Meat and Drink indeed.

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

07 May 2024

A Steward of the Rich Man's Things

When it comes to your life in this world, you’ve learned a thing or two over the years, and you’ve got at least a few things figured out. Whether you’re a second-career man, a bi-vocational pastor, or rocking a side hustle — or simply a full-time pastor with a home and family to care for and look after — you know how to “get ‘er done.” Right? You know your own business, your hobbies and pastimes. You’re a bona fide expert at your own occupation and activities in this body and life.

By a fair amount of trial and error over the years, you’ve learned how to make your way in the world. You know how the system works, and how to work the system. You know how to connect the dots, to make ends meet, and to get what you really want, one way or another.

You’ve also figured out how to make friends. You know what they expect from you, and what you can reasonably expect from them. And likewise, notwithstanding all the ups and downs on your learning curve, you know what to expect from this life on earth, and what it takes to survive.

But do you know the business of God? Do you know how things work in His Kingdom? Do you know what to expect, and what is expected of you, on the way that leads to the Life everlasting?

The fact is that you are a steward or manager of a Rich Man’s things, not only as a pastor, but as a human being, and all the more so as a Christian — a Blood-bought baptized child of God. Your life is not your own, no matter what you may kid yourself into thinking. Everything you have is on loan from God. It is entrusted to you, not for the purpose of feeding the appetites of your fallen flesh, but for the glory of God in the good that He does to you and to others. You are to use His gifts in faith before Him and in love for your neighbors. That is your job and your responsibility.

And you should take heed and take to heart, there will be an accounting of your stewardship. There will be a day of reckoning, when the ledger of your body and life in this world is presented to the Lord your God. And there will be the facts to speak for themselves.

How have you spent your time? And, yes, how have you spent your money? Where have you invested your energies? To what or whom have you given your affections? What have you done with God’s things? And what have you done for those people whom God has placed around you?

In short, who has been your master? Who has been calling the shots? Is it you, or the Lord?

Do not suppose that “clocking your hours” as a pastor every week is adequate or somehow even generous on your part. If there is any portion of your life that you regard as “your own,” then you are robbing from your true and rightful Lord, who has created you and given you life and all that you are and have. On any given day, in any given week, at best you have only done your duty.

Have a care how you think about tithing, as well, and about almsgiving. Perhaps you have shied away from any such notions altogether, because they have sometimes been taught and practiced legalistically. And to be sure, do not at all suppose that tithing will atone for your sins, justify you before God, or purchase your place in His Kingdom. But having been forgiven freely by Christ Jesus, made righteous by His grace through faith in His Gospel, and named a child of His God and Father in your Holy Baptism, do not at all suppose that you are now to live as a god unto yourself.

As for tithing, ten percent of your income is not a bad guideline, a starting point. It is surely not too much. But if you are hard pressed, commit some significant percentage of your income as a regular offering to the Lord, as an exercise of faith and love. And if you are able, do not hesitate to go well beyond ten percent. Or, if you do not think so readily in terms of percentages — if your income and expenses are variable through the year — then consider setting apart as much for the Church and Ministry of Christ as you spend on your hobbies, your entertainment, your vacations, and your luxuries in life, whatever goes beyond your food and clothing and safe shelter.

And let your almsgiving likewise be as generous as you pamper yourself. After all, if you can find the means to pay for your pastimes, for ball games and video games, for going out to eat or going to a show, then you can also find the means to care for your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

Only, whatever you do, realize that you are not buying God off, nor are you earning His favor, since you are using and investing His riches, not your own.

Be very clear on this point: God doesn’t need your stuff. It’s already His stuff in the first place. But God does require your heart. All of it. And because you are His steward or manager, He has entrusted you to live and serve according to His good pleasure, that is, according to His Word.

The Lord looks not only at what you accomplish, but at whatever drives you to accomplish it. When you proceed in selfishness, it may result in impressive things in the sight of men, but the Lord your God is not impressed. Nor is He pleased by your selfishness and self-serving behavior.

The Lord does not measure things by the law of the jungle. He does not teach you to look out for yourself first, and for your neighbor only when it appeals to you or suits your plans. He calls you to live by faith in Him alone, and for His sake to sacrifice your entire life in love for your neighbor. He charges you to love even your enemies, and to pray for those who persecute you. That is how you are to occupy your days and nights, your life, your time, your energy, and all of your stuff.

That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. And the opposite is also true: That which is highly esteemed before the Lord is detestable in the eyes of men.

Consider the Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the living God. Though He was rich, yet, for your sake, He made Himself poor, so that you could inherit the riches of God in Him.

He came down from heaven to become true Man, and not only that, but to bear the sins of the world in His own Body, to hand Himself over to the Cross. He liquidated Himself. He spent it all. He gave Himself away. Not for those who loved Him, but for you, though you were His enemy.

And the world says in response, “Jesus, you’re a bloody fool! That’s no way to live!”

And yet, it is the way that God lives. It is how He has lived for you. He humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death, in order that you might live with Him in His Resurrection.

You also, then, have this heart, mind, and spirit of Christ in you. For this is how you are to live.

For God’s sake, be generous to your neighbor, even if you don’t like him. Use the stuff that God has given you to love and serve those in need around you. And don’t tell me there are no people like that. There are. You know there are. So, love them. Don’t just speak nice words to them. Do things for them. Go out of your way. Give up some of your time. It isn’t your time, anyway.

Forgive. Above all, forgive. Forgive those who have trespassed against you, as your dear Father in heaven forgives you. That is the coin of the realm in the Kingdom of God, within His one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church on earth: Forgiveness of sins. It is not hoarded and hidden away. It is spent freely. And the more forgiveness is given, the more it multiplies and grows.

You are to exercise your stewardship in faith and love. That is the course that you are given to follow. So, then, trust in God, who has given you all things to begin with. Do not be afraid that if you give some of it away, He’s going to deprive you. He’s not going to stop being generous. He has no problem with generosity. That is what characterizes Him. It flows from His very nature.

If you are generous with what the Lord your God has entrusted to you, do not worry, and do not be afraid. He knows how to feed you. He knows how to clothe you. He knows how to take care of you. And because you are His very own, He does all of this for you with charity and compassion.

Even when you fail to be grateful, even when you fret and fidget and forget to say thank you, and even when you go about your life as though you have gotten everything for yourself, your dear Father in heaven still has this overflowing abundance of generosity for you in Jesus Christ. And it is such generosity that you are likewise to have for your neighbor. Indeed, the Lord’s generosity with you is not for your benefit only, but for the benefit and blessing of your neighbors, as well.

So, what’s that going to look like? What is that kind of faithful stewardship of your life and that kind of godly generosity in your life going to look like?

Well, here’s the thing, which ought to resonate especially with all of you who are pastors of the Lord’s people: It looks like the stewardship of the Mysteries of God, to which you have been called. It looks like the Ministry of the Gospel, like the administration of the Means of Grace.

The right way to use the temporal stuff that God has entrusted to you for this body and life on earth looks like the way that you as a pastor are given to use the Means of Grace on behalf of God’s dear children: the way you make disciples by way of Holy Baptism and ongoing catechesis in the Word of Christ Jesus; the way you feed those disciples with His holy Body and precious Blood; the way you freely and fully absolve them in His Name and stead. According to the Lord’s commission and command, all of these sacred things are done and given freely, without charge, and without cost.

The stewardship of the Mysteries of God, that is the pattern by which you are called to exercise the stewardship of your body and life, and of all that the Lord your God has placed into your care.

It is not like the scribes and Pharisees, who are lovers of money and lovers of praise from men. It is rather like the Gospel, because it is the life that is lived by and from and in the Holy Gospel. It is like the Lord Jesus, coming down from heaven and giving Himself for you and to you, and to and for others, also. That is how the Lord administers His true riches.

And that is how you are to manage and administer the Rich Man’s things.

It may seem foolish in the eyes of the world. Well, so be it. You ought to look foolish in the eyes of the world. Your Lord Jesus did, and so He does. The world still thinks this is all a bunch of nonsense. But living by faith, your hope is in Christ. And your hope shall not be disappointed.

Truth be told, your stewardship is not what it ought to be, neither in the church nor in your home.

Surprisingly, shockingly, the Lord nevertheless continues to deal with you by the stewardship of His Gospel. The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, your Savior, He is the faithful Steward and Manager of His Father’s things. For His Name’s sake, He praises you and blesses you, because He has poured out the Holy Spirit generously upon you and adorned you with His perfect righteousness. He has given Himself for you. He has reconciled you to His God and Father. He has been a Friend to you in need. And having befriended you in love and called you to Himself, He forgives you all of your debts, all of your trespasses and sins, and all of your faults and failings.

In His own faithfulness and righteousness, He who gave Himself up for you in love, continues to give Himself to you with the free and full forgiveness of all your sins. And for His own sake, for the sake of His divine and holy Love, He welcomes you into His House, into His dwelling, both here in time, where He feeds you at His Table in His Church, and hereafter in eternity, where you shall feast upon the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb in His Kingdom forever and ever.

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

29 April 2024

The Life and Salvation of the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus

Be sober in all things. Endure hardship and bear the cross patiently. Do the work that God has given you to do. Fulfill your calling as a Christian.

The Lord your God has poured Himself out as a drink offering for you and for all people, even to the ends of the earth. And He pours Himself out for you here — for you and for the many — that you should be crowned with His righteousness, sealed with His Blood, and live with Him in His Kingdom, in safety, peace, and happiness forever.

By the baring of His holy arms upon the wood of the Cross, He has redeemed His people and the whole of His creation from the curse of sin and death.

And now He also bares His holy outstretched arms and His merciful hands by causing the Gospel to be preached to all the nations, to make known His salvation to all men and women everywhere, and to comfort His Church, His beloved Jerusalem, even in the midst of her suffering and sorrow.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of God, in flesh and blood like your own, has fulfilled the entire Law, the Word and holy Will of His Father. He has established faith and love, righteousness and holiness, in Himself, in His own Body, in the perfect unity of His own Person as the One who is both true God and true Man. It is in Him, therefore, by faith in Him, that all the sons and daughters of man are called and given to live the divine life, to partake of the divine nature, and to abide in peace and joy forevermore within the bosom of His God and Father.

He has broken down the wall of hostility and separation between God and man, which sin erected in the fall of Adam. The Lord has removed the accusation of the Law and every condemnation; for He has suffered the death and damnation of sin in His own Body, and the wrath of God against all unrighteousness. And having done so in perfect faith and love, in holiness and innocence before His God and Father, He has been vindicated and raised from the dead on behalf of all people.

Because His bloody Cross and Passion have made Atonement for the sins of the whole world, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ has defeated death forever and crushed the devil’s head.

His Resurrection is the Father’s Holy Absolution of the world, which He has reconciled to Himself in Christ, His dear Son. All flesh and all of creation are restored in the flesh of Christ, in His Body, crucified and risen. So God the Father now beholds the world in Jesus Christ, and it is very good.

All of this redemption, reconciliation, and righteousness, the Lord has accomplished and fulfilled, not for His own benefit, but for you and for all — that you might live in His good and glorious New Creation — that you might live, by faith in Christ Jesus, in the love of God forevermore.

It is into that life and love that God invites you and brings you by His Gospel, which is the Word of Christ, the proclamation of His Cross and Resurrection, the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Name, and of peace with God in His holy and precious Blood.

As He brought all of creation into being out of nothing by His Word, so has He also brought about the New Creation by His Word. And so it is that He brings you out of death into life — out of the darkness of your sins into the Light of His Love, into His New Creation — all by His Word.

It is by His Word that He has given you the new birth of water and the Holy Spirit, so that you are no longer dead in your trespasses and sin, but having been crucified with Christ you are raised with Him to newness of life with God, here in time and hereafter in eternity. Outside of Christ Jesus you are condemned, but in Him you are alive and shall be saved eternally. Remain in Him, therefore, by returning daily to your Baptism through contrition, repentance, and faith, and by living the new life to which He has called you, in love for God and man, according to His Word.

Do not underestimate the importance and necessity of His Word and the preaching of it. For it is His Word that separates the darkness from the Light. It is His Word that raises you from death to life. And it is His Word that saves you from every evil of body and soul, until He shall call you from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.

It is when His people disregard His Word and turn away from it that His good creation falls into the curse and condemnation of sin and death. And, as it is by His Word that you abide in Christ, and by His Word that Christ abides in you, so it is that, when you turn a deaf ear to His Word and refuse to hear it, then you are found outside of Him and condemned in your unfaithfulness.

Where His Word reproaches you for your unbelief and hardness of heart, repent. Do not become angry or defensive; do not persist in your stubbornness and sin, but repent and believe the Gospel. Do not refuse to hear the testimony of those who are the witnesses of His Cross and Resurrection, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Do not despise this preaching of His Word, but receive it with your ears, ponder it in your heart, believe it, and live according to it at all times.

Trust Christ, that He was crucified for your transgressions and raised again for your justification. Live in Him, and do not allow the devil, the world, or your sinful flesh to rob you of that life.

Wherever in the world He has called you and stationed you to be, live and work there in the joyful confidence of His Gospel, and in the love that His Word directs you to have for your neighbor.

If you are a preacher, preach. But let none of you suppose that only preachers shall be saved or live by the Word of Christ. Rather, live in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, according to His Word that has been preached to you, within each and all of your callings and stations in life as a Christian. Know that the Lord your God works with you and in you, confirming His Word to you by the signs of His grace, mercy, and peace in your faithful service within your own place, wherever it might be, and in all of your various relationships.

Live such as you are, as one whose life is safe and secure in Christ Jesus, who sits at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. That is where you live by faith, even as you live in love here on earth

And that, too, is very good, for Jesus’ sake

The goodness of His creation — redeemed by His Cross and restored in His Resurrection — and the goodness of life in this world, is demonstrated by the ways and means with which He causes His Gospel to be preached to all the nations of the world, even to the ends of the earth.

Not angels, but men of flesh and blood like His own, He calls and sends in His Name to preach.

Men like St. Mark the Evangelist, whom we remember with praise and thanksgiving to God this evening. By his hand, the Word of Christ Jesus has been recorded and published in all the world. Surely by such proclamation he was useful to St.  Peter and St.  Paul. And he is useful to you, also, by the Word that he has written in the Holy Spirit. With mortal hands he wrote with human words on earthly parchment, and yet those Words he wrote are the Words of Christ, your Savior, alive with His Spirit and full of His forgiveness for the salvation of sinners, including you.

So do the preachers of Christ Jesus, even now, speak with new tongues, so that you may be healed of your sins, set free from your demons, and raised from death to life. The lying tongue of the serpent shall not deceive you or mislead you, and his deadly poison shall not hurt you, not while you are guarded and kept by this preaching of Christ and His Gospel of forgiveness. Not because you never fall or fail, but because He is risen from the dead and He raises you up with Himself.

With His Word He has made of ordinary water a Baptism for you, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit. Believe it, and be saved.

Believe, too, that the same Lord Jesus Christ who died and rose again, who called and sent Saint Mark to preach and publish the Gospel, and who reclined at the Table with His holy Apostles, making Himself known to them in the Breaking of the Bread — that same Lord Jesus Christ, by the same Word of the Gospel, reclines here at His Table with you, and He gives Himself to you here and now, His Flesh and Blood for your body and soul, in the same Breaking of the Bread.

His Word sounds from heaven here in this place through the mouth of His servant, and His holy arm stretches out to feed you from His own hand. There is no poison in His Cup. It is poured out as the Medicine of Life and Immortality, which He has brought to light through the Gospel.

By His precious Word, sweeter than honey, and by His Holy Sacrament, He reigns as your King.

All praise and thanks to Him for this great salvation, and for the gift of His servant, St. Mark, through whom He has caused His Word to be heard in your ears and your heart, unto eternal Life.

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

28 April 2024

Life on the Vine

The Holy Triune God has planted His people on earth to be a choice and productive Vineyard, that they might share in His divine Life and flourish in His loving care for them, bearing good fruits according to His own good and gracious will. So it is that you are called to live by faith in Him, to receive His Life into yourself, and to bear the fruits of His Love by sharing His Life with others.

This is what it means — and this is what it looks like — for you to be a branch of the true Vine and a part of the Lord’s Vineyard: To rely on Him and to receive your life from Him alone, to live in love for your neighbor, and so to bring forth the fruits of the Vine to the glory of God’s holy Name.

The Office of the Holy Ministry is the way and the means by which the Lord conveys His divine Life to the branches of His Vine and to His whole Vineyard. And it is certainly the case that His servant, Don, has been — and is — such a gift to His Church and to His people; for it is by Pastor Stock’s faithful preaching and ministry over these past many years that your gracious God and Lord has bestowed His Life and Love upon you and many others, to the glory of His Holy Name!

By way of contrast, to withhold life and love from your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, to harbor bitterness or resentment against your neighbors in the world, to flatter and pamper yourself, or to serve yourself and seek your own glory — all such practices, wherever and whenever they occur, would indicate that you have severed yourself from the Vine and do not abide in faith and love within the Vineyard. For the Lord has planted His Vineyard to produce good grapes — not the sour grapes of wrath, but the good grapes of faithfulness, gentleness, kindness, and mercy.

So, how’s that going for you? Maybe not so good? After all, take a good look all around. Consider the daily news from all over the world and from the cities and towns of our own United States. Think about your routines, and about your relationships — not just the ones you favor and prefer, but all of those roles and relationships to which the Lord has called you. It isn’t all coming up roses. Nor is it the harvest of faith and love that God commands and requires of His Vineyard.

The soil has been cursed on account of sin. The ground from which you have been taken is stained with blood, and the earth itself quakes with the weight of death. Plants do not grow easily or well. The grass withers and fades, and all flesh dies. Thorns and thistles infest the Vineyard. The whole world is polluted, the sun beclouded, and the rain is either insufficient or else too much at once, so that it drowns and destroys what has been planted. The branches on the Vine produce more foliage than fruit, and the fruits they do produce are wild and sour, idolatrous and selfish.

The Lord looks for the fruits of faith and love in His Vineyard, and so also in you. But you do not fear, love, and trust in Him above all things; and neither do you love your neighbor as you should.

Yet, the Father in heaven still cares for His Vine, and so He cultivates His Vineyard by pruning the branches and removing those that bear no fruit, casting them into the fire. He does this cutting so that the Vine itself may survive and thrive, and that it should live and grow in faith and love.

But who, or what, or where is that true Vine which is able to survive the curse of sin and death? Who, or what, or where is that Vine which can thrive and give life to the entire Vineyard? For the curse is so complete, so comprehensive, and so devastating, surely the pruning and removing of branches must continue until there is nothing and no one left. For there is no good in any of us.

But, no, there is hope and help to be found in Christ Jesus. He is the true Vine, the planting of His Father, who willingly dies the death of sin and is buried like a Seed into the dust of the ground, in order to redeem and sanctify the soil, the earth, the whole creation. He is the One who is cut off from the land of the living and cast into the deadly fires of God’s righteous wrath and judgment. He Himself is pruned to the point of crucifixion, in order to purge the Vineyard of sin and death.

He removes what is wild and wrong in your body and life, and He bears it away in His own Body.

And this same Lord Jesus Christ also rises from death to life, to be a vital and productive Vine. He abides in faith and love, and He bears good fruit to the glory of His Father and for your benefit.

Again, it is by His Ministry of the Gospel that He bestows the good fruits of His Cross upon His Church on earth; and so has He done for many years now through Pastor Stock, in order that you should hear and receive the forgiveness of your sins and be enlivened by His grace in holy love!

The Cross of Christ, upon which He suffered and died, has become the Tree of Life for all the nations. Because His death atoned for the sins of the world, His Blood does not stain but cleanses the earth, and His Body, crucified and risen from the dead, is the First Fruits of the New Creation.

It is into Him that you are grafted, both your body and your soul, into His Body of flesh and blood, to be a branch of the true Vine. For you are buried with Him through your Baptism into His death, in order that, having been planted with Him in the dust of the ground, so do you live and grow and bear good fruit in Him, as well. Like the Ethiopian eunuch, you have been baptized into the Cross and Resurrection of the same sacrificial Lamb of God, who was lead to the slaughter and slain for your sins, who has also risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, never to die again.

Abide in Him, therefore, as He abides in you with His Word of the Gospel; and so bear good fruit. For apart from Him, you are dead. The good fruits that you bear — the fruits of faith and love — are the produce of the Life that you receive and have and live in Him, as He Himself is your Life.

That is true for each and every one of you as Christians, and that is true for each and every pastor, as well. And so it is that Pastor Stock has been able to love and serve and care for you with the blessed Fruits of the Cross of Christ, because he has first of all received them as means of grace for his own life and salvation, and then also as a sacred stewardship for the life of the Church.

What he has received from the Lord from those who have gone before him, he has also handed over to you — as a minister of the grace of God — in the Word and Sacraments of Christ Jesus!

It is by the Word of Christ, by the hearing of His Word, that you live and abide in Him; for it is by and with His Word, by the preaching of His Word, that He is with you always and abides in you.

It is by the washing of the water with His Word that you are grafted into Him in Holy Baptism. So, too, it is by His Word, by His preaching of repentance and forgiveness, that you are daily returned to the significance of your Baptism; and by His Word that you are “watered” with the living and Life-giving Spirit, who keeps you and the whole Church united with Christ in the one true faith.

You are already clean by the Word of the Gospel that Christ has spoken to you, but so does He daily “wash your feet” and “water your soil” with the catechesis of His Word. With His Law and His Gospel, He teaches you the Way of Life — to be fruitful in faith and love, as He is fruitful.

Where you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment, He does not cut you off, cast you away from His presence, or destroy you. He does prune your life with His Law, not for death but for the discipline of love, that you should rely upon His gifts of Life and so be nurtured and sustained by His grace. For His Word of the Gospel, which is the forgiveness of your sins, fills you with the vitality — the life and health and strength — of His Resurrection from the dead.

By the merit and means of His own dying and rising, He does not remove you from the Vineyard of the Lord of Hosts, but He raises you up from death and the grave, from the dust of the earth, and from the idolatry and unbelief of your sin, to bear the fruits of peace and joy, of faith, hope, and love, to the glory of His God and Father. As He Himself glorifies God with the abundant Fruit of His Cross and Resurrection, so does He glorify the Father in you, and He glorifies you in Himself.

So has He also glorified Himself and His Father — and the Holy Spirit — in His servant, Pastor Stock, first of all as a beloved and well-pleasing child of God, and then also as a faithful minister of His Word. It is a remarkable thing, indeed, that any of us poor, miserable sinners, fallen and fallible men of mortal flesh and blood, should be given such a privilege and such a responsibility, to preach and teach the Word of Christ and thereby to bestow divine, eternal gifts to His people.

It is likewise with His Word of the Gospel — by the human hands of His called and ordained servants — that He also feeds you and all His disciples with the Fruits of His Cross, that is to say, with His own sacred Body, crucified and risen for your Salvation, and with His holy and precious Blood, poured out for you from this true Vine as a better Vintage than this world has otherwise known. So does He abide in you, both soul and body, and you abide in Him by faith in His Word.

This Sacrament of the Altar truly is the Feast of Holy Love, because these gifts of the incarnate Christ, His flesh and blood, are the Produce of His Propitiation, the Communion Meal of His Self-Sacrifice for Atonement, Absolution, Reconciliation with God, and the perfect Peace of His Spirit.

I expect that you would readily agree, Pastor Stock, that, along with the preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the Lord’s Holy Supper is one of the most profound and greatest privileges  — and one of the most important responsibilities — that we are given as ministers of Christ Jesus. Although we carry out this high and holy calling in the confidence and courage of our dear Lord, we do so in the fear and trembling of repentant faith, in recognition of what we here place into the mouths and bodies of His beloved people, that He should thus abide in them, and they in Him!

It is indeed the case that, by these Fruits of Christ the true Vine, you are enlivened in heart and mind, in body, soul, and spirit. And as He thereby gives you life with God in Himself, so do His Fruits produce good fruits in you after their own kind: Not only in your thoughts and feelings, but in your words and actions, and with your hands and feet and lips and tongue. So does He bring forth in you the fruits of faith and love toward God, with which you worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, and fruits of love for your brothers and sisters in Christ and for all your neighbors.

In much the same way, the ministry of the Gospel is itself a labor of holy faith and holy love, and it is right that we should recognize and give thanks for the love that Pastor Stock has exercised for  the Lord and for His people in this sacred calling and station. It is no easy task, but a worthy one!

Such love sometimes requires speaking up when it is difficult or even dangerous to do so, in order to defend what is good and right, to decry what is wrong, and to protect one neighbor from another. Never with a spirit of vengeance or violence, nor for the sake of destruction, animosity, or hatred, but by the Spirit of Christ Jesus, with the confidence and courage of His Resurrection, and with the charity and compassion of His Cross, for the sake of repentance and forgiveness in His Name.

And all such fruits of faith and love are a confession of Christ the Crucified, that He is the one true God in the flesh, and that He is your Life and your Salvation. By the speaking of His Word, and by your living in accordance with His Word — by what you patiently bear and suffer in steadfast faith, and by your tangible gifts and works of love for those you are called to serve — you testify of Christ Jesus, and you bear the fruits of His Cross and Resurrection in your place.

Thank you, Pastor Stock, for being a faithful instrument of such love in the Name and stead of our one Lord, Jesus Christ, and for serving His dear people in this place with His Word of the Gospel.

It is that Word which bears His fruits in each of you by forgiving all your sins, by granting you His own Life and love and faithfulness, and by lighting your path in the way that you should go.

That path of life is one of grace and mercy, of compassion and kindness. Above all, it is the path of forgiveness, even as God in Christ forgives you. Thus, you proceed along that path, bearing the Cross to the glory of God the Father, in the joyful hope of Christ and His Resurrection from the dead. Abiding in Him, as He abides in you, so do you live, and so do you love as He loves you.

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

25 April 2024

The One Who Believes and Is Baptized

St. Mark was an Evangelist, in the first place, because he was a preacher of the Gospel. He is said to have gone to Alexandria and preached the Gospel there. The Church identifies the Apostles and Evangelists with particular places, because the Gospel and the Church are historically grounded and located in real space and time. Christ has sent His preachers of the Gospel into all the earth, into the whole world, to make disciples of all nations, and yes, in fact, to preach the Gospel to all of creation, since all of creation is made new in the Resurrection of Christ, in His flesh and blood.

St. Mark is an Evangelist because he was such a preacher. But he is also one of those four holy Evangelists by whose hand the Lord has given us the written Gospel of Jesus, a record of our Lord’s words and actions, of all that Jesus began to do and teach. It is not only an historical record, but a theological treatise, and really nothing less than the preaching of Jesus, in which He is actively present, breathing His Holy Spirit upon His Church. These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you have life in Him.

St. Mark begins his record of the Holy Gospel — the Gospel of Jesus Christ — with the ministry of St. John the Baptist. He came in the wilderness preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, because the Kingdom of God was at hand in the Person of Christ Jesus.

Then Jesus came and submitted Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And after He was driven out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for forty days, He also began to preach, “Repent, and believe the Gospel, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Repent, therefore, each one of you. Believe the Gospel, and do not forget your Baptism, but daily wash yourself in it by way of repentance, by trusting the Word of Christ, by receiving His means of grace. Be put to death each day, and rise again with Christ each day.

Trust the Lord your God. Look to Him who is your Father, who has called you His own dearly beloved and well pleasing son. Look to Him who promises to give you all good things in Christ, and pray as He has taught you. Do not doubt but firmly believe that your prayer is heard and answered with a resounding “Yes and Amen!” in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

And that you may believe and pray in this way, hear and heed the Word of God. Rejoice to hear His Word and the preaching of it, the preaching of the Gospel, as St. Mark wrote by inspiration, and as your pastors to this day preach into your ears, into your heart, and into your body and life. This Word is true. It is Spirit, and it is Life. Do not doubt it. Be not unbelieving but believing; for he who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who disbelieves will be condemned.

But what does this mean? For all that Jesus has done, does it still come down to you? Must you figure out how to repent, and how to believe, and how to live by faith, lest it all be for naught?

Consider the example of those eleven disciples. They had already heard the testimony of Mary Magdalene and the other women. They had already heard the testimony of the two disciples who were on the Road to Emmaus and saw the risen Lord Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread. But they refused to believe the testimony of those witnesses, and Jesus rebuked them for their hardness of heart, just as He calls you to repent above all for your unbelief and hardness of heart.

But your Baptism does not rest upon your faith. The Lord Jesus does not stand upon your love. And the Kingdom of God does not depend on your repentance. Your faith rather stands on Christ, as it springs from the waters of His Baptism and relies upon His Gospel. And it is because the Kingdom of God first comes to you, that you are called to repent: Not only to sorrow for your sins and turn away from them, but to find shelter in this One who has come in the Name of the Lord.

He has come in the flesh as true Man. He has borne your sins and suffered your death. And He has done it all — He has lived and died for you — by faith in His God and Father. This Lord Jesus Christ has believed. This Lord Jesus Christ has been baptized, even unto death. And this Lord Jesus Christ has been saved from out of death and the grave through the Glory of God the Father.

Do not ever look for your salvation in yourself, not even in your own faith. You cannot choose to believe. You cannot will it. You cannot decide to do any such thing, for sin and death reign in your flesh until the Holy Spirit lays Christ upon your heart through the forgiveness of your sins.

It is the work of Christ that is credited to you as righteousness. It is the work of Christ that is given to you in the preaching and ministry of His Gospel. It is Christ who speaks to you through those whom He has called and sent in His Name. He forgives all your sins and grants you His Peace.

This, then, is the work of Christ, which He has done, and which He works in you. When Christ is preached to you as the One who believed and was baptized, who was crucified and raised, this work of Christ is worked in you. Thus are you called to faith through the narrow passage of the Cross. And so are you born again into newness of life. You are called out of darkness into His glorious Light. Where once there was nothing but doubt and fear and sadness, now there is joyful confidence in the One who was raised from the dead; for He has come to take up residence in you — through your ears and through your mouth, into your heart and mind, into your body and life.

He opens the Scriptures to you. Not that you should know the rules better and try harder to keep them, but that you should know them as fulfilled in Christ Jesus for you. As He has died, you also die with Him. As He is raised, you also are raised up with Him, to live with Him, now and forever.

Be encouraged in this life by the sort of men whom Jesus calls and sends. Men like Simon Peter, who denied his Lord in fear, and yet he was restored and sent as the prince of the Apostles. Men like Thomas, who doubted to begin with, but who was sent — not in doubt, but in confidence — to preach boldly until he also was put to death. And men like Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of the Church, the hater of Jesus, who was called to become His great champion to the Gentiles. He preached the Gospel to the ends of the earth in his day, until he too was martyred for the Gospel.

And then there’s Mark. Whether or not he was that rich young man who went away sorrowful, because of his many possessions, when he was first called to take up the Cross and follow after Jesus, we know that he disappointed the Apostle Paul by bailing out on their missionary journey.

Such are the men, fallible and flawed, weary, weak, and wounded, whom your crucified Savior raises up in His strength and sends in the way of His Cross to the glory of His Name. They have their doubts, they have their fears. They suffer hurt and pain and ridicule and persecution. They are even put to death, despised and rejected by men, though they are precious to God in Christ.

It is through such weakness, by and with the Cross, that the Gospel is preached to you. It is the power of God unto salvation. It is the preaching of repentance, which puts you to death, and destroys your self-confidence, and robs you of any claim to righteousness or merit or good works. It is a word that wounds you in order to heal you, and kills you in order to make you alive, because it is the Word of Christ the Crucified, who is also risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever.

This is the Word that is preached to you. And with this Word of Christ there are signs, which you cannot recognize by your eyes, but by the faith that God works in your heart you know what is going on here. By the waters of your Baptism, and by the forgiveness of your sins, all of your demons are cast out. All of your darkness is enlightened. All of your dirt is washed away.

When Jesus lays His hand on your head, and His servant speaks with that new tongue of the Gospel, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name and stead of Christ,” you know and believe that you are thereby healed. Your body is made ready for the resurrection on the last day. You shall not perish but have everlasting Life. You shall not die but live, in body and soul, forever and ever.

The deadly serpent’s sting has been undone. That old dragon, Satan, cannot harm you. He can still try and bite you. But it doesn’t stick. The sting of death is removed. The sting of sin is gone.

Nor is there any deadly poison in that overflowing Chalice which the Lord Jesus sets before you on His Table. It is rather His Blood of the New Testament, the Blood of Christ Jesus Himself, which He pours out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

When you have doubts, do not be afraid, and do not run away from God, but listen to His preaching of the Gospel. By this Word He keeps on loving you. He keeps on forgiving you. He keeps on coming to you. So does faith come by hearing, and hearing by this Word of Christ. And as you believe, so it is done. In fact, before you have called, God answers. And while you are yet speaking, already He is acting to save you — through men like Mark, pastors He has never failed to provide for His Church on earth. So are you and all the sheep of the Good Shepherd nurtured on the green pastures of His Gospel, refreshed by the living waters of His Baptism, and fed at His Table in His House, unto the resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting of body and soul.

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

01 April 2024

The Word of Christ Brings You Home to His Body

Disciples of Emmaus, you know the things that have happened in these days, the things concerning Jesus Christ of Nazareth, His Cross and Passion and His Resurrection from the dead. By His Cross He has redeemed you, forgiven all your sins, and conquered the power that death held over you. And in His Resurrection He has opened up heaven and eternal Life to you and to all who believe in Him, for which He has poured out His Spirit generously upon your body and your soul.

How is it, then, that you are still so often sad? Why should you be so angry or afraid of anything, discouraged or depressed, when Christ your Lord, the Son of God, has suffered these things for you and entered into His Glory? Knowing and confessing all that the Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles have told you, why are you so foolish and slow of heart to believe the Gospel?

Here and now, in this body and life, you are making your way and muddling forward without a clear sense of where you really are or where you’re going. The days and hours fly by, seemingly relentless, but you are living in a time between, restless and uncertain on a journey to your true Home, which you can’t yet see or perceive. Your heart, mind, and spirit are tossed about by the turmoil of this perishing world, and you are torn between death and life, between sin and faith, and between what you can and cannot see with your eyes. You are caught between earth and heaven.

Here your senses too easily trick you and fool you, so that earthly things seem powerful, glorious, and heavenly, whereas heavenly things seem ghostly, ghastly, and hard to comprehend or bear.

You live by faith and not by sight along the way, and as such, your only real recourse is the Word of God: The Holy Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles; the Holy Gospel of your Lord Jesus Christ, as written by His Holy Evangelists; and the Word of Christ Himself, the Word made Flesh.

Avail yourself of that Word. Speak it to your neighbor, and ask that it be spoken to you. Confess it and pray it as you go about your days, as you rise up in the morning, and as you go to bed again each night. In particular, give attention to the preaching of the Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins.

I realize that it can seem pointless and useless to “talk about Jesus” in the face of all the hurts and disappointments that wear you out and weigh you down. If that sounds impious to say, or even blasphemous, still, you know that it can feel that way, and that you often live as though it were so.

Consider how easily you are caught up in the maelstrom of this world with all of its anxieties and countless distractions. Think about your daily routines, and how the duties and demands of your job, your classes, your house and home, your family, and all your neighbors roundabout, consume your attention and your energies, so that you end up living and acting as though the Resurrection never happened or did not matter — even now, when Holy Week has ushered you into Easter!

There are those days when you can barely keep yourself going, one foot in front of the other, and you may not feel like talking anymore, and you really don’t want to hear it, not even about Jesus. That’s one of the main reasons that you dare not go it alone, lest you spiral into a silence of the Word of God and give yourself over to the constant buzz, nauseating static, and deadly white noise of your own inner dialogue, which does not believe but doubts and denies the Word of the Lord.

In spite of your nagging and persistent sadness, and no matter what you may be thinking or feeling at any given point, it is in the speaking of His Word — in the conversation about Jesus — that the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Himself draws near and travels right along with you. In and with His Word, by and with His Holy Spirit, He is actively present and opens the Scriptures to you.

He opens up your ears to hear, and He opens up your heart and mind to comprehend and believe the Holy Gospel — to hear and receive the forgiveness of all your sins, which is the solution to all your doubts and fears, the remedy to every infirmity of your heart and mind, body, soul, and spirit.

What is more, it is by and with His Word of the Gospel that He brings you Home, that is, to your true Home, which is the household and family of God, the Body of Christ. On the surface it may appear that He is coming to be your guest, but then it quickly turns about that He is actually the Host who takes you in, and cares for you, and serves you at His Table with His own hand.

With His Word and Holy Spirit, in His own Body of flesh and blood, He comes to make His home with you here — in order to make a Home for you with Him — already now in His Church on earth, and so also in the resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.

Here then, at His Altar in His House, is the lavish Table at which He tenderly invites you to recline and take your rest, to receive and feast upon the Meal that He has prepared for you and for the many. He takes the bread, He gives thanks, and He gives to you what everyone is looking for and needs: Not the empty tomb, and not only the news and information of the Resurrection, but His own crucified and risen Body in the Breaking of the Bread, the Holy Communion of His Supper.

That is where the whole Christian Church on earth recognizes, receives, and worships her dear Lord Jesus Christ. And that is where you also are at home and at rest: In the Body of Christ Jesus.

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