27 December 2009

That the Peace of Christ Rule in Your Heart

What are you looking for?

Behind all the goals and aspirations; all the projects, plans and wish lists; dreams of romance, love and marriage; all the academic pursuits, financial ventures, and physical endeavors, what are you looking for?

In the movies that you watch, the games that you play, the music that you listen to, and the books that you read, what are you looking for?

When you come to church on the First Sunday after Christmas, to the Temple of the Lord; and whether you come to church on each of the Twelve Days of Christmas, or find other things to do on these holy days, what are you looking for?

Whatever you might call it, however you might describe it, and however your heart might feel it, what you’re looking for and long for is peace. Not simply a truce or cease-fire. Not merely the absence of arguments and conflict, a break at last from the fighting and yelling, contending and competing. But real peace: contentment and satisfaction, a confidence in who you are and why you’re here; and not only reconciliation but friendship with God and with your neighbors, far and near. A peace that flows with identity, meaning and purpose.

That is what your restless heart is looking for, because it is for such peace with God and with each other that you have been created. It is the pulse of real life.

If you do not have such peace ruling in your heart, nothing else will be able to satisfy you or put you at ease; not for long, and not forever.

Without such peace, you’re as good as dead; and yet, you still find no rest from your labors, but are driven by a fevered striving that you cannot even comprehend, much less control. Like a corpse made to dance by the strings of a puppeteer. Not a real boy or girl. Not a real man or woman.

So, you’re looking for a peace that surpasses comprehension, and you find it in the same place that Simeon and Anna did: in the Temple of the Lord; in the Christ-Child, the Babe, the Son of Mary; in the Sign of His Cross. All according to the Word and Spirit of God.

This is where you find what you are looking for.

This is where you see the salvation of your God.

But what is it that you do see, exactly? A Baby, His parents, and a couple of old people.

But babies are born every day, and old people die all the time. And sometimes babies die, and old people outlive their spouses and sometimes the capacities of their minds and bodies. Sometimes couples have children, and sometimes they can’t. And too often, babies are born unwanted; or, what is worse, they are not permitted to be born.

It all seems far too ordinary, on the one hand; haphazard and capricious on the other hand. But this is the only sort of thing that is seen on the surface of it: a Baby, His parents, and two old people. That is all that Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna see, when they are met with the Lord in His Temple; and that is what you are given to see, also, here in the Lord’s house, and in your Christian life.

So how is there peace to be found for you in this?

How shall you perceive what Simeon and Anna saw in the Christ: the Light of revelation to the Gentiles and the Glory of His people Israel?

How shall that Light of Christ reveal the meaning and purpose of your life — not haphazard and capricious, but graciously given by God — and how shall you live and die in peace?

If you "live like you were dying," that might be helpful in some respects, or maybe not; but it isn’t the source of peace. Neither a zest for life nor succumbing to despair will save you. If you remain centered in yourself, the end is the same either way.

Whether you seize the day, run with the bulls, jump from a plane, or do nothing at all, what difference does it make?

If you simply resign yourself to the fact that someday you’re going to die, sooner or later, this way or that way, that is not the peace of Christ but the cold logic of Satan.

Faith says, "Yes, it is true that I shall die from this temporal life on earth; for I have already died with Christ in my Baptism; but now, then, my life is hidden with Him in His Resurrection and Ascension, in the bosom of my God and Father in heaven. Therefore, even though I die, yet shall I live."

Who dies thus, dies well.

But while it is far better to depart and be with Christ — and if you die before you wake, you pray the Lord your soul to take — there is a reason for your temporal life on earth. There is a meaning and a purpose for the time and place that you are given here; for your vocations and stations in life. And already there is peace for you in Christ Jesus.

For whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.

That is the key, first of all, to this Holy Gospel, to the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, and to the Peace of Christ that you share with Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph.

You are the Lord’s — because He has redeemed you, purchased and won you. As He once redeemed the firstborn sons from death, and redeemed Israel from Egypt, so has He, the more gloriously, redeemed you and all people from sin, death, the devil and hell, by the sacrifice of His holy body and the shedding of His precious blood upon the Cross.

That is why the parents brought their firstborn sons to the Lord’s house: the Levites, to dedicate their sons to service; and the rest of Israel, to redeem their sons from sacrifice, and to sanctify them for life in the world to the glory of God. Because, in truth, they and all their children are the Lord’s by right, who is their Creator and Redeemer.

You and your children, also, are His, your Creator and Redeemer, from whom your life and all things come, by grace.

Because you are His, you do not belong to yourself, but to Him. And as you belong to Him, you belong also to His people. You also, then, are dedicated to the service of God; and as you are redeemed from sacrifice, you are sanctified for life — in this world and the next.

That is the life that you are called to live, in whatever place God has put you; not for yourself and your own sake, but for Him who for your sake died and was raised.

You see, then, it is His Cross that reveals the secret thoughts of your heart. It opposes whatever selfishness and self-righteousness there are in you — whatever striving for self. And so His Cross is for the dying of your self.

But it is His Cross, first of all, and He has given Himself over to death ahead of you; in order to redeem you, and rescue and raise you. So that He is the Ram caught in the thicket and thorns of the Cross, provided by God in the place of you and your sons. And He is the Passover Lamb, sacrificed to feed you with His flesh and to cover you with His Blood; so that, not death but life shall have you, not slavery but freedom, not heartache but peace.

All of this, not only for you, but for the many. Not only for the dying, but also for the rising. So that you are not only put to death in your self, but you are raised to new life in Christ within His one Body of many members. You live as He lives; and you shall never die. You live as He lives; and your life is bound up together with all who live in Him.

Therefore, the peace that you are looking for is not only your own comfort and salvation, but the redemption of Jerusalem and the consolation of Israel.

The peace that you are looking for is found in Christ Jesus, because He has reconciled God and man in Himself, in His own Person, in His flesh and blood, in His Cross and Resurrection. You find the peace that you are looking for in Him, and you also find your neighbors and friends in Him, your brothers and sisters, your fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, babies and old people. In loving Him, you love them. In loving them, you love Him.

And as you love Christ in your brothers and sisters, so do they love you in Christ. The Anna sitting next to you there in the pew, her piety, her fasting and prayers are yours; they avail for you and strengthen you. The Simeon sitting a few rows in front of you, his righteousness and devotion are yours; they avail for you and strengthen you. The Joseph sitting with his family in the back, his quiet obedience are yours; it avails for you and strengthens you. And the Mary who lives by faith, who bears children and cares for them in love, her purification is yours; her faithfulness and loving service are yours, and avail for you and strengthen you.

Not as though any of your brothers and sisters could redeem you or merit salvation for you, but because they and you belong to each other in Christ Jesus, and you are taken up together into Him who is your redemption and the Savior of His Body.

This is your identity, your meaning and purpose.

But how do you live and love in this way? What are you to do with yourself?

It is according to the Word of the Lord that you are guided by His Spirit to live and love in peace. That is what brought Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna to the Temple — to the little Lord Jesus. And that is likewise what brings you here with your parents and children.

If you are a parent, then bring up your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Bring them to His Temple in Holy Baptism; teach them His Word, and bring them to His Holy Communion. Teach them to pray, to sing, and to confess His Name.

If you are a wife, then live with your husband in peace, until death parts you from him.

And if you are a widow, or unmarried, then do not leave the Temple, but serve both night and day with fasting and prayers. In this way you give thanks to God, the Lord, and you strengthen His Church and His people.

If you are a young man, or old, know that it is a manly thing to be in church, to pray and sing, to praise the Lord your God. It is a manly thing to care for your own family, if you have one; to care for orphans and widows in their distress; to take the little children in your arms with gladness, and to behold in them God’s gift of life.

To belong to the Body of Christ is to bear with your neighbor patiently, and in love to share his burdens as your very own. Which means not only time and sweat and money, though it does include all of that, as needs may be; but it means, above all else, that you forgive your neighbor whatever his trespass against you. There is peace in such forgiveness, and life.

There is peace and life — for you and for the many — in such forgiveness, because it is such forgiveness that resides in the heart of Christ, and flows from His heart to all the members of His Body. His Body bears with you, and in love His Body shares your burdens as His own. And His Body forgives you all of your sins, whatever your trespasses may be.

It is all the blessed good work of this little One who has opened the womb of His Mother, and who was brought up to Jerusalem and presented to the Lord: not only in the Temple, but once-for-all upon the Cross.

This One is your Peace.

Though you have not been righteous and devout. Though you have not kept the Law.

Though you have not been faithful in praying and singing and confessing His Word.

Though you have not fasted, and have not been in the Temple as you ought.

Though you have not honored your parents or cherished your spouse or cared for your children or loved your neighbor.

This little One, the Babe, the Son of Mary is your Peace.

He has performed everything in fulfillment of the Law.

He has grown in wisdom and stature for you, and He is strong.

The grace of God is upon Him, and His grace is upon you. In Him you see not death, but the Lord’s Christ, whose Body bears all your sins and bestows forgiveness.

Take His Body now into your arms, bless God, depart in peace, and live.

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

21 December 2009

The Wounded Body of Christ

Among the good gifts that the Christ gives to His Church on earth, in first place are His Holy Apostles, including St. Thomas, who have seen the Lord. By their eyewiteness testimony, you are called and brought to faith in the same Lord Jesus Christ, in order that, believing, you may have life in His Name. Blessed are they who saw what Prophets longed to see, and who looked upon the Mystery of the Word-made-Flesh, which even the angels had longed to look into. And blessed are you who receive their preaching of Christ, for by that apostolic Word you share their fellowship with Christ and with the Father and the Holy Spirit. By the faithful Word of those who saw and touched the Body of Christ, you are made a member of His Body, and you abide in Him, with one another, in peace and love.

For all of that, the Apostles were not strong, confident and believing by any reason or strength of their own, but by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Thomas was not the only doubter among the Twelve; they all doubted, until Christ had shown to them His hands and feet and wounded side. It wasn't simply doubt or skepticism, but unbelief that plagued them.

Now, put yourself on both sides of that equation:

If you doubt something and don't believe it, you can't simply choose to believe it. You can't will yourself to believe differently than you do. It's possible to be convinced and convicted by one means or another, depending on the circumstances, but apart from such a conversion you can't just decide to trust and take to heart what you doubt.

And when you have such doubts, whether about friendship or love, or perhaps about Christ Jesus and His Word, then you have no real peace and calm, but fear, frustration and anxiety.

On the other side of it, if someone else doubts you and your word and refuses to believe you, that can also be very frustrating and exasperating. Perhaps you become impatient and angry in such situations; which doesn't help your credibility, and doesn't help the doubter, either.

But Jesus does not lose sight of His goal and purpose. He is not moved by pride or ego, but by love and mercy. His desire is to give life and peace and fellowship: to bring you into fellowship with Himself, and to unite you with Himself within His Body.

His love and His faithfulness are forever; so He is patient and kind, long-suffering, slow to anger and abounding in gracious compassion. Even His scolding is gentle, that you not be frightened or shamed but embraced by His love. He is not harsh or mean. He does not berate His disciples or cast them away from His presence; nor does He leave them alone in their doubts and fears. But He is merciful in coming to His disciples and opening Himself to them.

Consider what it means that He reveals Himself to the disciples, including St. Thomas in particular, and He makes Himself known to them, by the means of His wounded hands and side. Note that He is not simply recognized as Jesus of Nazareth, but He is recognized and worshiped as Lord and God — by such wounds.

Is this not striking and seemingly ironic, that the Lord our God should be seen in His wounds?

But this is precisely right. This is the sort of God you have. He has given Himself as a Lamb for His people, a Lamb that has been slain, and yet, behold, He lives. He has passed through the deep waters for His people, on their behalf, ahead of them, in order to bring them through on dry ground. From His pierced and wounded side He has washed His people with pure water, and He has cleansed and covered them with His holy, precious blood, so that death has to leave them alone, and doubt must finally let go of them.

So it is that, with His Body and His Blood, He gathers His disciples to Himself and grafts them into His side, that they may have life in Him.

That is why, even in His Resurrection, His glorified Body bears the wounds of His Passion. There is no shame in those wounds, but His glory as our Lord and God and Savior. This weakness is His strength and our salvation.

And if the Body of Christ bears the wounds of His Cross, do not be dismayed that the members of His Body bear His Cross and are wounded. Do not despise your wounded brothers and sisters in their weakness, doubts and fears. If anyone says that He loves Jesus, whom he cannot see, but hates his brother, whom he does see, he is a liar. You see Christ Jesus in your brother and sister, especially in your wounded brother and sister; for it is by His wounds that He reveals Himself and makes Himself known to you.

Do not despair if you yourself are wounded, whether in body or soul, heart, mind or spirit. For Christ has made such wounds His own, in order to heal you by His death and make you whole in His Resurrection from the dead. Do not be unbelieving, but believing, and at peace.

Take courage from the example of Saint Thomas, who is remembered with thanksgiving on this day, not as "doubting Thomas," but as the Holy Apostle. He is called and sent by Christ, not because of his flawless strength, but even in the frailty and weakness of his flesh; that the glory of Christ Jesus, the Crucified One, might be manifested in such wounded hands and feet as this preacher of the Gospel.

The wounded members also belong to the one Body of Christ. And so do all of you belong to one another in Him. You are fitted and joined together in love, in the unity of faith and the knowledge of God's Son; that you might share each other's strengths and weaknesses, wounds and scars, in peace — under one Head, crowned with thorns, even Christ, your Lord and your God.

If your fellow members of His Body are not with you in the gathering of His disciples, seek them out, speak to them in love, and invite them in. That is what the other disciples did for Thomas; though he doubted their word, they spoke to him nonetheless, and perhaps that is why he was there the next Sunday, instead of being elsewhere on his own. Your words may not convince your brother or sister of anything, but bring them with you to the Upper Room of the Church.

For it is there, in the Divine Service of the Gospel, that Christ is with you, in your midst; and His Peace is with you. Receive His Holy Spirit in His forgiveness of your sins. Do not be afraid; He is here for you in love. Even His preaching of the Law is a gentle scolding, which does not drive you away but would have you hide yourself in His wounds.

Reach here with your hand. Take, eat; drink; taste and see that the Lord is good, and that He is risen indeed. Oh, come let us worship Him, our Lord and our God, and give Him all thanks and praise, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

19 December 2009

The Body of Christ Is Not Selfish But Sacrificial

St. Mary believed the Word of the Lord that He spoke to her; and in that faith, she said "Yes" to His Word. She submitted herself to His will. She entrusted her body and life to Him. Not a tithe or token, but 100%, a living sacrifice. A woman does not bear a child with only part of herself, but with all she is. For a time, it is true, a mother’s work is never done.

What has the Lord spoken to you, and how shall you say "Yes" to His Word? What is His will for your body and life? In love for Him, how shall you love your neighbor as yourself?

To love is to give yourself, to spend yourself entirely, and to pour yourself out for another. Do not allow the gifts that you may give to be a substitute for that gift of yourself.

But perhaps you are already spent, and broke or broken, and you cannot imagine giving anything more of yourself to anyone. There are lots of lost and wandering people in the world. Perhaps you are one of them. Alone and confused. Afraid of everything. Distant, or at war. Angry or unhappy. Disappointed, discouraged and disconnected from others.

Do you have such heavy burdens to bear? By yourself? Is it because your neighbor has neglected you? Or is it because you have turned away from your neighbor, inward upon yourself?

The thing about selfishness is, you wind up alone, because you are so wrapped up in yourself. Even what you do for others, you do for your own sake and your own benefit. And the more you strive to get and to keep for yourself, the more isolated and disconnected you become. In your wealth you are empty, and in your feasting you are not satisfied.

But it is not good for you to be alone. You were not created to live unto yourself in isolation, but to live in love with God and with your neighbor.

You were created to live in the communion of saints, in the one Body of your Lord, Jesus Christ; to live in relationship with others, within the household and family of God.

That is the life God has called you to live. That is the Word of love that He has spoken to you.

How shall you say "Yes" to that Word? How shall you submit yourself to His will for you?

How shall you bear the Son of God in your flesh, in your body and life, for His Name’s sake, and for your neighbor’s sake?

The best way to have friends is to be a friend. The best way to find love, is to love — in words and deeds and truth. But let there be no strategy of selfishness at work in your friendship and love. Rather, entrust your body and life to God, the Lord; conform yourself to His Word and His Will; and so offer yourself as a living sacrifice of faith and love.

Have you heard how quickly St. Mary went to visit St. Elizabeth? Have you heard how gladly St. Elizabeth welcomed her? Consider the friendship and love and mutual help they found and received in each other; all the while their bodies were given over to the good work of bearing the children God had given to them by His grace and mercy.

The comfort and consolation they give and receive in each other, is the work of God in the members of His Church. For as those who fear, love and trust in Him unite their wills to His, so does He unite His divine work and sacrifice to theirs. Not as though His work depends on them, but as the means by which He graciously accomplishes His purposes for them and for others.

And it is all of one harmonious piece: Thus, St. Elizabeth welcomes and rejoices in the Lord, her Savior, in welcoming His Mother and rejoicing over her and with her. And St. Mary receives the proclamation of St. John, pointing to her Son, through the word of St. Elizabeth. In loving and serving and clinging to each other, they cling to Christ, and they are loved and served by Him.

The gracious work of God is likewise hidden in the good work He has given you to do. So you love and serve Him in the members of His Body, in your brothers and sisters within His family.

That begins with your own parents, your spouse and children, if you have them. Therefore, spend yourself in loving those nearest of your neighbors, no less so than a mother with child.

Husbands and fathers, do not be distant from your wives and children, but draw near to them in what you say and do, and in how you listen. Do so in your work for them, yes, but also in your time and with your presence, in your own person.

But if you have a family of your own — whether as a parent, spouse or child — know that your family points beyond itself to the household and family of God. Love and serve that family, also; especially those members who have no other family on earth. For the Lord gathers all His sons and daughters together into one Body, with one Head, and all His sheep under one Shepherd.

And if you do not have a spouse or children, or parents any longer, rejoice all the more in that fellowship of the Body of Christ. Understand that your freedom from the joys and burdens of a family, is a freedom to spend yourself in service to others, to the Church and to your neighbors; to help those with families in their needs, and to help others without families in their needs.

Do not suppose that you have too little to give, or that you are not up to the task. For the Lord joins His good and gracious work to all your works of love, and all things are possible with God. That is evident in these two women with child: old Elizabeth, who was called barren, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, who did not know a man.

Whatever the Lord has called you and asked you to do, He supplies all that is needed, and He works His work in you by His grace alone.

Do not worry about how much will be left for you, if you spend your time and energy in loving. And do not fret about how much your neighbor reciprocates, whether a lot or a little or not at all.

If you are emptied, the Lord will fill you up. If you are humbled, He will raise you up and exalt you. If you are impoverished, He will still feed you with good things. If you perish, you perish; yet, the Lord will make you alive forevermore.

The surety of your resurrection and your life everlasting is the Body of Christ: Conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Crucified under Pontius Pilate; dead and buried; but risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of God the Father, your great and merciful High Priest. And given for you here, at His Altar, for your salvation.

For He who was rich has made Himself poor; and the Most High has made Himself lowly. The exalted One has humbled Himself and become obedient, even unto death. Not a tithe or token, not a part or portion, but He gives Himself, His body and life, His flesh and blood.

He fully united His human will with that of His Father, and so, by the voluntary sacrifice of His Body on the Cross, He has sanctified you for life.

Thus, by the bloody sweat and labor of His Passion, He gives birth to the children of God in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Your body and life are sanctified by His. Your work and sacrifice are also sanctified by His, and vindicated in His Resurrection from the dead. Your faithfulness is taken up into His faithfulness and is perfected in Him; and where you have been unfaithful, His faithfulness avails for you with forgiveness of all your sins and salvation from death.

In your poverty, weakness and failure, His poverty becomes your wealth; His weakness becomes your strength; and His bitter suffering and death for the sins of the world, becomes your glorious victory. This is how Immanuel, the Lord your God, draws near to you, and visits you in mercy, and abides with you in love, now and forever.

If you are spent in loving and serving a spouse, a child, a parent, a neighbor, friend or foe, even to the point of being broke or broken, know that Christ the Lord is with you to help you and to save you. He has regard for your humble state. He has done great things for you, and He shall do so; for His mercy is upon you, and His holy Name.

Consider how intimately He abides with dear St. Mary, with His own Body of flesh and blood within her body. But then see here, how He also comes to abide with you, God’s own dear child, giving His own Body and Blood into your body. Here is the remembrance of His mercy. And shall He who feeds you with such good things, who joins Himself to you in love, ever leave you or forsake you? No, He shall not. But all that He has spoken to you, He shall do.

Blessed are you who believe it. Draw near and receive Him in the belly of His Mother; for blessed is the Fruit of her womb, now become the Fruit of His Cross, which is your meat and drink indeed. And thus abiding in Him, and He in you, return to your home in His Peace.

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

12 December 2009

The Wisdom and Justice of God

Talk about "not fair." St. John the Baptist, a righteous and innocent man, is in prison because of his faithfulness, while Jesus eats with tax collectors and other sinners. Not only that, but St. John will remain in prison, until he is finally beheaded, while Jesus heals the sick and raises the dead.

But do not be offended. This is the wisdom of God at work, giving birth to the children of God in Christ; and this is the justice of God at work, bringing sinners into His Kingdom in peace.

There is a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to eat, and a time to fast; a time to repent, and a time to rejoice. For it is by death and resurrection that you enter the Kingdom of God.

So what have you come out to see? And how shall you receive my Baptism? How shall you react and respond to my preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ Name?

Acknowledge God’s justice,
and do not reject but affirm His purpose for you.

Truly, I am not the Christ; I must decrease, that He may increase. I preach and point beyond myself to Christ Jesus, the Lord. But in my preaching and my pointing, Christ the Lord is near.

I call you to repentance — to turn away from sin, to follow Jesus — in order to prepare you for His coming, and to present you to Him in peace, according to His good will and righteousness.

Therefore, do not be offended by this poor reed, so easily tossed about and shaken by the wind.

The one who preaches in the wilderness is the messenger of the coming Lord, the expected One. And the one imprisoned for His Name’s sake goes ahead of Him to prepare His way before Him.

You see, then, that Christ Jesus also shall be arrested and imprisoned and put to death. For wherever St. John the Baptist goes, Jesus follows after.

He cures many people of diseases, afflictions and evil spirits; He opens blind eyes and deaf ears; He cleanses lepers and raises the dead — and all of this He does, by taking all of this infirmity upon Himself; by removing the iniquity of sinners, and bearing it in His own mortal flesh.

He acknowledges God’s justice against the sins of the whole world — and He affirms God’s purpose for Himself, for the forgiveness, life and salvation of sinners — by going to His death.

What, then, is your affliction and infirmity?

Christ has borne it for you, and He now bears it with you.

What is the wilderness in which you live?

Even there, Christ Jesus the Lord is near. He is at hand, in your midst, to reign as your King. He is a victorious warrior — not set against you, but a champion for you against all of your enemies.

But what is your prison? Where and how are you locked up? What are the shackles and chains that bind you? What iron bars have trapped you behind closed doors?

Perhaps it is lust, or greed, or envy; hurt feelings or unrequited love. Or maybe it is loneliness, disappointment, personal failure, or your own pride, which imprisons you. Or, is it rather sin and shame, or sickness, or sadness and sorrow? Or, do you find yourself locked up in a dungeon by your vices and bad habits, by addictions you can’t shake, or by impatience and a short temper?

There are no lack of prisons, but the cells are still overcrowded.

It may be that, like St. John the Baptist, it is precisely your faithfulness within your own proper vocation that is your prison house and cross to bear; and that may prompt you to say, "not fair!" Your faithfulness in submitting to a husband who is not thoughtful, kind and loving; your faithfulness in caring for and serving a needy wife who nags and complains and never seems to be happy. Your faithfulness in taking care of children who demand everything from you; your faithfulness in taking care of aging, ailing parents, who no longer remember your name or face.

Whatever it is that confines you, imprisoned as you are by it, what can you do?

Here is what God, the Lord, says to you:

Do not be afraid, and do not be anxious about anything.

Yeah, right!

But, no; seriously. The Lord is at hand to help you. Call upon His Name. Pray to Him. Ask for a Word from Him; even a Word that tells you again what you may already know. Ask Him to send His preachers to you, to preach; for He comes to you by preaching. Ask Him for the Gospel; and, as you hear that sweet Word, know that He keeps His promises forever.

Listen to what He says; take it to heart, believe it to be true, and confess it to be so. Acknowledge His justice, and affirm His purpose for you.

When He sings a dirge, weep. When He plays the flute for you, dance. Weep for your sin, but dance for joy in His forgiveness. Do not rely on the bread and wine of mortal princes, who perish with their food, but now feast at the Table of the Son of Man who gives real food to the hungry.

Here is His wisdom and His justice, which He accomplishes for you and gives to you in peace.

Your sense of justice may cause you to retreat and run away from Him in sorrow and shame over your sin and failure. And your sense of justice may cause you to hold yourself aloof and far away from your neighbor, because of your neighbor’s sin. But God’s justice is perfected in mercy. His justice is what moves Him to come, to draw near to you in love, to draw you to Himself in peace.

He has taken away His judgments against you — by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

He has cleared away all of your enemies — by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

He is with you now in quietness and gentleness. But also in that peaceful calm, He exults and rejoices over you with shouts of joy and gladness. So here is an amazing thing: this Sunday calls you to rejoice in God your Savior, but here His Word declares to you, that He rejoices over you!

He rejoices over you in peace, in spite of your sin, because He has made atonement for your sin and does not hold it against you. Therefore, do not be afraid of your sin; it cannot harm you. The Lord rejoices over you. That is true, no matter what you suffer.

He is a friend of tax collectors and sinners, of gluttonous men and drunkards, and of the demon-possessed who neither weep nor dance. He has made Himself the friend of all who are poor and afflicted and oppressed, whatever their personal demons and prisons may be, of wealth or want.

Dear one, He is your friend: in joy and sadness, in misery or merriness; for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. He pledges you His faithfulness against even death.

And He rejoices in your faithfulness, also, even if you find yourself imprisoned by it and for it. To serve faithfully where He has called you to be, whether it be in a palace or a prison, and to suffer patiently whatever He may give you to suffer for His Name’s sake, that is a worthwhile place and purpose. It is not meaningless or pointless, but a testimony to His faithfulness. It is where you are given to rejoice and be glad in Him, as He rejoices over you in gracious love.

It does not matter if your neighbor fairs differently, nor if the Lord shows favor to those who are less faithful. Do not be offended by Jesus, and do not take offense at the company He keeps.

As Jesus draws near to you, so do you find yourself surrounded by tax collectors and other sinners, by crazy men, and lepers, the hurting and despised, the wounded and forgotten, and by Pharisees and lawyers, too. He does not despise the children of men, but He calls them to be the children of God by His grace.

Do not measure the crowds according to their human birth and social stature. Do not inquire how much or how little, how big or how small. Do not count those beans, neither in yourself, nor in your neighbor. This mortal life on earth is temporary; it is fleeting and always fluctuating.

One day you or your neighbor are a prince or a princess, the next you are a pauper, or a prisoner; or else you pass away in your royal dignity, and then you are put into the ground in your fine apparel and soft clothing, and you return to the same dust as friends and foes alike.

But everyone who is born again of water, Word and Spirit — everyone who is crucified, dead and buried with Christ Jesus through Holy Baptism — is raised again with the same Lord, Jesus Christ, and born anew in the Kingdom of His God and Father.

That is the greatness that you share with Jesus, and with all who eat and drink with Him in faith.

With a gentle spirit, therefore, be at peace. Be at peace in your own heart and mind before God, and, in so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ, in particular, no matter what the prison that either you or they may be in.

For the wisdom of God is vindicated by all His children. The One who raised Jesus from the dead has justified you, a sinner, by your Baptism into Him, into His Cross and Resurrection. As He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, so are you vindicated and righteous.

What that means is, whether He sets your free from your afflictions and infirmities while you are yet on your pilgrimage, or whether He allows you to remain in your personal prison until death, He will surely release you at last from all of the burdens and the bondage of your mortal flesh.

Whether in frailty and weakness, or in faithfulness and strength, the Lord who has drawn near to you in the Cross of Christ, will draw you to Himself forever in His Resurrection from the dead. For He has already reconciled you to Himself; and that Peace of God, far surpassing all human wisdom and justice, guards and keeps your heart and mind, your body, soul and spirit, blameless in Christ Jesus, unto the day of His appearing.

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

11 December 2009

Hymns for Christmas Tide Series C

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols

Office Hymn
Silent night, holy night (LSB 363)
First Lesson
Genesis 3:8–15 (The promised Seed shall bruise the serpent’s head)
First Carol
Savior of the nations, come (LSB 332)
Second Lesson
Genesis 22:15–18 (The Lord’s gracious promise to Abraham)
Second Carol
Creator of the stars of night (LSB 351)
Third Lesson
Isaiah 7:10–15 (The Virgin shall conceive and bear Emmanuel)
Third Carol
O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild (LSB 546)
Fourth Lesson
St. Luke 1:26–38 (The Annunciation unto the Virgin St. Mary)
Fourth Carol
The angel Gabriel from heaven came (LSB 356)
Fifth Lesson
Isaiah 60:1–6 (The Glory of the Lord has risen upon you)
Fifth Carol
Come, your hearts and voices raising (LSB 375)
Sixth Lesson
Isaiah 62:10–12 (The Lord comes with salvation for you)
Sixth Carol
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming (LSB 359)
Seventh Lesson
St. Matthew 1:18–25 (The Birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior)
Seventh Carol
Away in a manger (LSB 364/365)
Eighth Lesson
1 John 4:7–16 (Let us love one another, for love is from God)
Eighth Carol
Once in royal David’s city (LSB 376)
Ninth Lesson
St. John 1:1–14 (The Word became Flesh and dwells among us)
Ninth Carol
Hark! The herald angels sing (LSB 380)
Processional Out / Hymn of Departure
Joy to the world (LSB 387)
Alternative Hymns and Carols
A great and mighty wonder (LSB 383)
Angels from the realms of glory (LSB 367)
Angels we have heard on high (LSB 368)
From heav’n above to earth I come (LSB 358)
Gentle Mary laid her child (LSB 374)
Infant holy, infant lowly (LSB 393)
It came upon the midnight clear (LSB 366)
Let our gladness have no end (LSB 381)
Let the earth now praise the Lord (LSB 352)
Now sing we, now rejoice (LSB 386)
O come, all ye faithful (LSB 379)
O come, O come, Emmanuel (LSB 357)
O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is (LSB 372)
O little town of Bethlehem (LSB 361)
O sing of Christ, whose birth made known (LSB 362)
Of the Father’s love begotten (LSB 384)
On Christmas night all Christians sing (LSB 377)
The people that in darkness sat (LSB 412)
We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth (LSB 382)
What child is this, who, laid to rest (LSB 370)
The Nativity of Our Lord
Midnight ChristMass

Isaiah 9:2–7
Titus 2:11–14
Luke 2:1–14 (15–20)
Processional Hymn
Of the Father’s love begotten (LSB 384)
Sequence / Catechetical Hymn of the Week
We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth (LSB 382)
Hymn of the Day
From heav’n above to earth I come (LSB 358)
Offertory Hymn
Let all mortal flesh keep silence (LSB 621)
Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is (LSB 372)
A great and mighty wonder (LSB 383)
Come, your hearts and voices raising (LSB 375)
Processional Out
Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light (LSB 378)
Alternative Hymns
All my heart again rejoices (LSB 360)
Away in a manger (LSB 364/365)
From east to west (LSB 385)
Hark! The herald angels sing (LSB 380)
Infant holy, infant lowly (LSB 393)
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming (LSB 359)
O gladsome Light, O grace (LSB 888)
On Christmas night all Christians sing (LSB 377)
Silent night, holy night (LSB 363)
The infant priest was holy born (LSB 624)
The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Dawn

Isaiah 62:10–12
Titus 3:4–7
Luke 2:(1–14) 15–20
Processional Hymn
Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light (LSB 378)
Sequence / Catechetical Hymn of the Week
We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth (LSB 382)
Hymn of the Day
Come, your hearts and voices raising (LSB 375)
Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
O Savior of our fallen race (LSB 403)
From heav’n above to earth I come (LSB 358)
O sing of Christ, whose birth made known (LSB 362)
Processional Out
Hark! The herald angels sing (LSB 380)
Alternative Hymns
All my heart again rejoices (LSB 360)
Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice (LSB 556)
From east to west (LSB 385)
Infant holy, infant lowly (LSB 393)
Let all together praise our God (LSB 389)
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming (LSB 359)
O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is (LSB 372)
O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild (LSB 546)
Rejoice, rejoice this happy morn (LSB 391)
The infant priest was holy born (LSB 624)
The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day

Isaiah 52:7–10
Hebrews 1:1–6 (7–12)
John 1:1–14 (15–18)
Divine Service, Setting Five (LSB 213–218)
Entrance Hymn
Savior of the nations, come (LSB 332)
Kyrie Hymn
Kyrie! God, Father in heav’n above (LSB 942)
Gloria Hymn
All glory be to God alone (LSB 948)
Gradual Hymn
Rejoice, rejoice this happy morn (LSB 391)
Hymn of the Day / Sequence / Catechetical Hymn
We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth (LSB 382)
Creedal Hymn
We all believe in one true God (LSB 954)
Offertory Hymn
Come, your hearts and voices raising (LSB 375)
Sanctus Hymn
Isaiah, mighty seer in days of old (LSB 960)
Agnus Dei
O Christ, Thou Lamb of God (LSB 198)
Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
Of the Father’s love begotten (LSB 384)
All my heart again rejoices (LSB 360)
Hark! The herald angels sing (LSB 380)
Post-Communion Hymn
In peace and joy I now depart (LSB 938)
Processional Out
O Lord, we praise Thee (LSB 617)
Alternative Hymns
A great and mighty wonder (LSB 383)
From heav’n above to earth I come (LSB 358)
Infant holy, infant lowly (LSB 393)
Let all mortal flesh keep silence (LSB 621)
Let all together praise our God (LSB 389)
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming (LSB 359)
O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is (LSB 372)
O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild (LSB 546)
O Savior of our fallen race (LSB 403)
The infant priest was holy born (LSB 624)
First Sunday after Christmas
Exodus 13:1–3a, 11–15
Colossians 3:12–17
Luke 2:22–40
Hymn of Invocation
Of the Father’s love begotten (LSB 384)
We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth (LSB 382)
Hymn of the Day
Let all together praise our God (LSB 389)
Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
Come, your hearts and voices raising (LSB 375)
The infant priest was holy born (LSB 624)
O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is (LSB 372)
Angels from the realms of glory (LSB 367)
Hymn of Departure / Catechetical Hymn of the Week
In peace and joy I now depart (LSB 938)
Alternative Hymns
All my heart again rejoices (LSB 360)
From heav’n above to earth I come (LSB 358)
In His temple now behold Him (LSB 519)
In the shattered bliss of Eden (LSB 572)
Joy to the world (LSB 387)
Let our gladness have no end (LSB 381)
Let the earth now praise the Lord (LSB 352)
No temple now, no gift of price (LSB 530)
Now sing we, now rejoice (LSB 386)
O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild (LSB 546)
O rejoice, ye Christians, loudly (LSB 897)
O Savior of our fallen race (LSB 403)
O sing of Christ, whose birth made known (LSB 362)
Oh, what their joy and their glory must be (LSB 675)
Once He came in blessing (LSB 333)
Savior of the nations, come (LSB 332)
Sing with all the saints in glory (LSB 671)
The only Son from heaven (LSB 402)
Voices raised to You we offer (LSB 795)
Ye watchers and ye holy ones (LSB 670)
Second Sunday after Christmas
1 Kings 3:4–15
Ephesians 1:3–14
Luke 2:40–52
Hymn of Invocation
Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light (LSB 378)
We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth (LSB 382)
Hymn of the Day / Catechetical Hymn of the Week
Within the Father’s house (LSB 410)
Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
Once in royal David’s city (LSB 376)
No temple now, no gift of price (LSB 530)
Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice (LSB 556)
Children of the heav’nly Father (LSB 725)
Hymn of Departure
From east to west (LSB 385)
Alternative Hymns
Angels from the realms of glory (LSB 367)
Angels we have heard on high (LSB 368)
Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing (LSB 686)
From God the Father, virgin-born (LSB 401)
God’s own child, I gladly say it (LSB 594)
Joy to the world (LSB 387)
Let our gladness have no end (LSB 381)
Lord of all hopefulness (LSB 738)
O come, all ye faithful (LSB 379)
O God, my faithful God (LSB 696)
O Morning Star, how fair and bright (LSB 395)
O Word of God incarnate (LSB 523)
Of the Father’s love begotten (LSB 384)
Oh, blest the house whate’er befall (LSB 862)
Our Father, by whose name (LSB 863)
Speak, O Lord, Your servant listens (LSB 589)
The gifts Christ freely gives (LSB 602)
The only Son from heaven (LSB 402)
The people that in darkness sat (LSB 412)
What child is this, who, laid to rest (LSB 370)
The Epiphany of Our Lord
Isaiah 60:1–6
Ephesians 3:1–12
Matthew 2:1–12
Processional Hymn
Wake, awake, for night is flying (LSB 516)
O Savior of our fallen race (LSB 403)
Hymn of the Day
O Morning Star, how fair and bright (LSB 395)
Offertory Hymn
Come, your hearts and voices raising (LSB 375)
Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
As with gladness men of old (LSB 397)
All my heart again rejoices (LSB 360) (Catechetical)
Songs of thankfulness and praise (LSB 394)
O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is (LSB 372)
Processional Out
Come, Thou bright and Morning Star (LSB 872)
Alternative Hymns
Arise and shine in splendor (LSB 396)
Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light (LSB 378)
Brightest and best of the stars of the morning (LSB 400)
Hail to the Lord’s anointed (LSB 398)
How can I thank You, Lord (LSB 703)
Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal (LSB 533)
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates (LSB 340)
O Christ, our true and only light (LSB 839)
O God of God, O Light of Light (LSB 810)
O God of light, Your Word, a lamp unfailing (LSB 836)
O light whose splendor thrills and gladdens (LSB 891)
O splendor of God’s glory bright (LSB 874)
Rise, shine, you people (LSB 825)
Salvation unto us has come (LSB 555)
The only Son from heaven (LSB 402)
The star proclaims the King is here (LSB 399)

09 December 2009

On Specks and Logs and Bearing Burdens

Coincidentally, I woke up this morning with a speck in my own eye. Don't know if it got in there from my pillow, or if it were an eyelash, or what, but it woke me up far earlier than I needed to be awake. Irritating as all get out, and utterly distracting. I couldn't help but think about the Words of our Lord concerning specks in my neighbor's eye and logs in my own, and it struck me as ironic that a tiny speck should so completely take over my life, whereas I live content with logs in my eyes on a daily basis, often oblivious to their existence. If the speck in my neighbor's eye causes him the agony and frustration that such a speck in my own eye causes, well, I ought to be led more to sympathy and compassionate care than to surgical prep. The log in my eye may prevent me from seeing the forest for the trees, but the speck in my eye makes it impossible even to see my neighbor clearly, to say nothing of trying to perform surgery on him. Thankfully, Christ removes both the specks and the logs by the way of His forgiveness; and it is by forgiveness that we likewise remove any specks that may be festering in our neighbor's eye. It is through the lens of Christ's forgiveness that we see our neighbor clearly and rightly; not as though through rose-colored glasses, but as through the eyes of God.

Anyway, the speck in my eye seemed an ironic coincidence when I got to church and discovered the next portion of Dr. Luther's Lectures on Galatians, which I have been methodically sharing with the folks at Emmaus for the past couple of years. He is brilliant and great as always in the section at hand for this week, beginning with a reference to the passage concerning specks vs. logs in the eye. What Dr. Luther has to say is exactly right, addressing one of the most important and most difficult aspects of the Christian life. Here is how he puts it:

"If those who are so ready to judge and condemn others took an accurate look at their own sins, they would discover that the sins of those who have fallen are ‘specks’ and that their own are huge ‘logs’ (Matt. 7:3).

"‘Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall’ (1 Cor. 10:12). If David — such a holy man, filled with faith and with the Spirit of God, one who had received such outstanding promises and who had performed such great things for the Lord — fell so disgracefully and, though well along in years, was seized by youthful passion after the many different trials with which God had disciplined him, what right do we have to presume about our own constancy? By means of such examples God discloses our own weakness to us, so that we do not become puffed up but are properly fearful; He also discloses His judgment, namely, that there is nothing more intolerable to Him than pride, whether toward Him or toward the brethren.

"It is not in vain, therefore, that Paul says: ‘Look to yourself, lest you, too, be tempted’ (Galatians 6:1). Those who have undergone temptations know how necessary this commandment is. But those who have not been tried by them, do not understand Paul, and thus they are not moved by any mercy toward the fallen; this was evident in the papacy, where nothing but tyranny and cruelty prevailed.

"‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2). A very considerate commandment, to which Paul adds great praise as a kind of exclamation. The Law of Christ is the law of love. After redeeming and regenerating us and constituting us as His Church, Christ did not give us any new law except the law of mutual love: ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you’ (John 13:34); and again: ‘By this all men will know that you are My disciples’ (John 13:35).

To love does not mean, as the sophists imagine, to wish someone well, but to bear someone else’s burdens, that is, to bear what is burdensome to you and what you would rather not bear. Therefore a Christian must have broad shoulders and husky bones to carry the flesh, that is, the weakness, of the brethren; for Paul says that they have burdens and troubles.

"Love is sweet, kind, and patient — not in receiving but in performing; for it is obliged to overlook many things and to bear with them. In the church faithful pastors see many errors and sins which they are obliged to bear. In the state the obedience of subjects never lives up to the laws of the magistrate; therefore if he does not know how to conceal things, the magistrate will not be fit to rule the commonwealth. In the family many things happen that displease the householder. But if we are able to bear and overlook our own faults and sins, which we commit in such great numbers very day, let us bear those of others as well, in accordance with the statements: ‘Bear one another’s burdens’ (Gal. 6:2), and ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Lev. 19:18)" (Lectures on Galatians, Luther’s Works, Volume 27, CPH 1963).

02 December 2009

Dr. Luther on Gentle Dealings

It's been a while since I last posted something from Dr. Luther's lectures on Galatians, but this passage of his (on Galatians 6:1) really struck me this morning. It convicts me and instructs me in a way that I find quite helpful, not only as a pastor, but as a father and as a Christian. So I commend it, gently, to my brothers in Christ and in office.

"Let those to whom the charge and care of consciences has been committed learn from this command of Paul how to deal with the lapsed (Galatians 6:1). 'Brethren,' he says, 'if a man is overtaken, do not embitter or sadden him even more; do not reject or condemn him. But correct, refresh, and renew him; and by your meekness repair that about him which has perished through the devil’s deception or through the weakness of his flesh.' For the kingdom into which you have been called is not a kingdom of fear and sadness; it is a kingdom of confidence and happiness. If you see some brother in terror because of a sin of which he has been guilty, run to him, and extend your hand to him in his fallen state. Comfort him with sweet words and embrace him in your motherly arms. The obdurate and stubborn, who fearlessly and smugly persist and continue in their sins, you should rebuke sharply. But those who are overtaken in a trespass and sorrow and grieve over their fall should be encouraged and instructed by you who are spiritual. And this should be done in a spirit of gentleness, not of zeal for righteousness or cruelty, as some confessors did, who, when they should have refreshed thirsty hearts with some sweet comfort, gave them gall and vinegar to drink, just as the Jews did to Christ on the cross (Matt. 27:34).

"On the basis of this we can well understand that the forgiveness of sins should not prevail in the area of doctrine, as the Sacramentarians maintain, but in the area of life and of our works. Here let no one condemn another. Let him not rebuke him furiously or harshly, as Ezekiel says of the shepherds of Israel that 'with force and harshness they have ruled the flock of God' (Ezek. 34:4). But let one brother comfort another lapsed brother in a gentle spirit. And let the lapsed one, in turn, hear the word of him who is comforting him, and let him believe it. For God does not want to reject, but to 'raise up all who are bowed down,' as the Psalm says (145:14); for He has paid a greater price for them than we have, namely, His own life and blood. Therefore we, too, should come to their aid, heal and help them with the utmost gentleness. Thus we do not deny forgiveness to the Sacramentarians or other founders or wicked sects; but we sincerely forgive their insults and blasphemies against Christ, and we shall never again mention the injuries they have inflicted upon us, on the condition that they repent, forsake the wicked doctrine with which they have disturbed the churches of Christ, and walk in an orderly way together with us. But if they persist in their error and violate good order, it is useless for them to demand the forgiveness of sins from us.

"'Look to yourself, lest you, too, be tempted' (Gal. 6:1). This is a rather serious warning. Its purpose is to put down the harshness and cruelty of those who do not cheer and restore the lapsed. 'There is no sin,' says Augustine, 'that one man has committed that another man could not commit.' We are living on a slippery place; therefore if we become proud and forsake good order, it will be easier for us to fall than to stand. Therefore the man spoke rightly in The Lives of the Fathers when the report was brought to him that one of the brothers had fallen into fornication. 'Yesterday it was he,' he said, 'and today it could be I.' Paul adds this serious warning to keep pastors from being harsh and unkind toward the fallen and to keep them from measuring their own holiness by comparison with the sins of others, as the Pharisees did (Luke 18:11)" (Lectures on Galatians, Luther’s Works, Volume 27, CPH 1963).

28 November 2009

Behold, Your King Is Coming to You

Forget about sheep for today. The Lord would have you see yourself in the donkey, in the colt, the foal of a donkey.

Without any rider, you would seem to be free. But you are not. You are tied up and owned by other lords; unused and useless; unclothed, unbridled, unneeded — but not free, and not safe.

Then Christ Jesus sends His disciples to loose you from your bonds and set you free; to clothe you with the garments of a disciple, and to set Christ Himself upon you. Not that He would burden you, but that He would be your gracious Lord and King.

In fact, for you the Lord Jesus Christ has become the donkey, the colt, the beast of burden. For He carries all your guilt and sin and shame, in His own body to the Cross, and He carries you through death into life.

In His descent, you are raised up. He goes up to Jerusalem, yes, because He is offered up to the Father as the sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the world. But thus He comes down from the Mount of Olives, anointed by the Holy Spirit for the sake of mercy, in order to give you life.

The Law accuses and condemns you, and would rebuke your worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. But He has come to establish righteousness for you, to save you by His grace, and to grant you safety, peace and rest in the midst of His Jerusalem. He receives your praise, as He receives you.

He does not condemn you, nor cast you away from His presence, but has called you to Himself. He does not rebuke or reject you, but calls you to rejoice in His salvation and His righteousness.

For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. And as there is now peace in heaven, in the heart of God the Father toward sinners, so is there now peace on earth in the preaching of the Gospel, in the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of the Lord Jesus.

He calls you to be reconciled to Him. For He would convert your stony, idolatrous heart into a heart of flesh: to love and trust in Him, your God in the flesh. Rest yourself in His Peace, and so be at peace with Him; and, in such peace, now love and serve your neighbor in his body and life.

Such love and peace in your body and life — in your daily words and actions, in your dealings with the sinners and brothers and sisters and fellow disciples round about you — such love and peace are all that is lacking in your faith as a disciple (as St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians).

To be sure, even in its weakness, even in your frailty and falling short, your faith lays hold of Christ Jesus and His Righteousness, in which there is no lack but perfect life and light and love, both now and forever. That is fully yours, by His grace. So, again, be at peace with Him, as He is most certainly at peace with you. So also do I rejoice and give thanks for your faith and life!

But in your flesh and in your members, in what you say and what you do, your faith in Christ has not fully turned in love toward your neighbor.

Therefore, do not remain tied up and still attached to your old lords and masters, but live now in the freedom of Christ, that you may increase and abound in love for one another. Do not avoid your brothers and sisters, but seek them out in mercy. Do not wait for them to ask for your help, but look for ways to love and serve them, as Christ has come to help you when you did not know Him. Do not speak ill of your neighbor, nor cause him any hurt in his body, his family, his home or his honor, but let all your words be gracious and all your actions graceful toward him.

Love freely, in faith, and not as though under the whip or goaded by the prod. Have no fear of punishment; you shall not die, but live. Rather, rejoice in the King who comes to you, who reigns over you in love from His Cross.

As He has become your gracious Lord and King; as He has borne all your burdens in His body, and as He has set you free from sin and death, so now bear Him in your body and life.

Be the colt that carries Him. Be a Christian. Let your tongue and mouth be bridled; let your hands and feet be guided; and let your flesh be disciplined by one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Let Him be the Lord who rides you, through death into life.

Let your outer garments be trodden under His feet, on the way of the Cross; so that you may be clothed with a new vesture, with His righteousness and purity, and with the holiness of His Love.

Has He not named you with His Name — the Name of the Lord your God — in Holy Baptism?

Has He not signed you, also in your body and your flesh, upon your forehead and your breast, with the sign of His holy Cross?

And yet, it is not you, the servant, the donkey, but Him, the Christ, your Lord and God, who first of all bears the burden of the Cross and looses you from the bondage of sin and death.

If you now bear Christ and His Cross, it is only because He has already borne you and yours.

Therefore, you are born again to a new and living hope. No longer the foal of a donkey, you are a son of God, a daughter of Jerusalem. You dwell in safety, and you shall be saved, because Christ has made righteousness and peace for you. That is your freedom and your faith.

For, behold, there is yet another donkey here at hand, which bears your King to you, who comes in the Name of the Lord, having salvation for you.

As He has sent His disciples to make a disciple of you — to forgive you in His Name; to baptize you and catechize you in love; to fill up whatever is lacking in you, with Jesus — so does He also send His disciples before His face, to prepare this upper room of His Church, this House of the Lord, for the true Passover Feast of His Body and His Blood.

The Lord has need of bread and wine. That is the colt He now rides, that by these earthly means He would enter His Jerusalem in mercy: to give His Body for you, and to pour out His holy, precious Blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Here He has need of you, also. Not that you should serve Him, but that He would serve you. For He would be your King of righteousness and peace. Not to enslave you, but that you would live with Him in His Kingdom.

He is a greater and more faithful King than even David, a better and far wiser Son than Solomon. For He is Himself your righteousness and holiness. He is Himself your safety, peace and rest.

That is why we shout aloud, and cry out, and greatly rejoice. That is why we sing of peace on earth as it is in heaven. For "blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord." From the House of the Lord we bless you. Hosanna in the highest!

And happy are you, who know this festal shout.

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

25 November 2009

This Brief Span of Eternity

An unusually warm and sunny November has been nice, but that doesn’t have us fooled. We know that winter is coming with its ice and snow and bitter cold temperatures. Already the days are shorter and darker than they were, notwithstanding the sun’s valiant efforts while it does shine. The shortest day of the year will occur just a few days before the Christ Mass, and here in the Northern hemisphere we can marvel at the striking contrast between this world’s darkness and the Light of Christ, in whose face we behold the radiant glory of God.
Winter is coming, and we are reminded that the world in which we presently live is temporal and perishing. As the Word of the Lord has declared to us in the final weeks before Advent, everything in this world is passing away. Even the once mighty stones of the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem have been thrown down, and no other building of man will fare any better. Not only that, but the earth itself will finally be rocked to the core, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken right out of their sockets. The sun and the moon will be shut off altogether, and the stars will fall out of the sky like dead fireflies.
Every winter is a kind of death from which we are raised again in the spring. But these natural seasons really point beyond themselves to the ending of all things, and to the resurrection of the body in the final judgment. Summer and winter, springtime and harvest continue for now, but only for so long as the earth remains; and the earth shall not remain forever. There are constant reminders all around us of how fleeting our life is. Not only the sin and death which press upon us, within and without; and not only the change and decay, which all around we see. But every bedtime is a little burial of our body, and every surgery a measure of violence and murder of our mortal flesh. No amount of labor, no amount of money, no accomplishment or great achievement, and no human strength will prevail against death.
As everything in this world is passing away, and we ourselves are subject to death and decay, returning to the dust whence we came, the Lord our God calls us to live as sojourners on earth, as wayfarers in a foreign land. Here we are guests, but for a brief time. Our home is in Christ, as our true and everlasting life is hidden with Him in the bosom of God the Father. So by His Holy Spirit do we live in this world as strangers and aliens, on a pilgrimage to our true home and fatherland, which is with Christ Jesus and our dear Father in heaven.
That is not to say that we treat this world with contempt. We do not disdain the bodies that our Lord has given us, for we are His creatures of flesh and blood, of both body and soul, and our bodies also shall be raised unto the life everlasting. We neither idolize nor despise the good gifts of our Lord’s creation, for these are bounty from His hand, for which we rightly give to Him all thanks and praise.
The way in which live in our bodies on earth, and the way in which we receive and use the Lord’s creation, is an exercise of faith and love, by which we are catechized to live with Christ in His Kingdom in righteousness, innocence and blessedness forever. The life that we live in the flesh, we live already for Him who for our sakes died and was raised. We receive His good gifts with thanksgiving and glorify His holy Name. We live by His gracious mercy, and we rest in the peace of Christ, and so do we extend His grace, mercy and peace to our neighbors in the world. That is to live the heavenly life on earth.
Since everything on earth is perishing, and we ourselves are mortal, we are called to invest ourselves and stake our lives on something that will remain. That is Christ and His Word, which shall not pass away. He is not a pie in the sky, over the rainbow, someday, somewhere, somehow, but He is with us (Immanuel) in His own Body of flesh and blood, with His divine, eternal Gospel. He has come to us in the flesh, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He has come to us by the Cross, atoning for the sins of the world with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, and thereby reconciling the world to God. He comes to us now, within His Church on earth, with the Gospel, His Word of forgiveness.
His coming to us now — with His Word and with His Body and His Blood, as also in His Holy Baptism — protects us from every evil of body and soul and prepares us for the world to come. Not only that, but His coming to us now — in flesh and blood like ours, with free and full forgiveness of all our sins — sanctifies our life in the body on earth. Though our days are numbered and few, they are indeed a brief span of eternity. Our pilgrimage and sojourn are not a pointless meandering, but a real journey on the way of the Cross, which is the way of Life in Christ.
Eternal life is lived, already here and now, in the Body of Christ, in the Sabbath rest of His Gospel, in the true peace of His forgiveness. To eat and drink His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion, is already to taste of the Wedding Feast to come. To pray, praise and give thanks in the congregation of His Church on earth, is already to join the great choir of His angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. To strengthen your brothers and sisters in Christ, and to be strengthened by them, in both body and soul, with both words and actions of love, is to live by the Cross of Christ in His Resurrection from the dead, unto the life everlasting.
That life which is yours in Christ, in the blessed communion of His one, holy, Christian and Apostolic Church, is then also lived in the vocations to which He has called you here on earth, and in those stations to which He has assigned you here in time. You bring to those vocations and stations in life the divine, eternal significance of Christ and the power of His indestructible life. When you confess the gracious Word that He has spoken to you, by living in faith and love where He has called you to live, by speaking as He has spoken, and by doing what He has given you to do, then your words and works shall not perish but shall follow you in the resurrection of your body. For it is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you.

In particular, consider what it means for you to live from the Altar of Christ, where He has fed and still feeds your body and soul with His own holy Body and precious Blood. For how shall your hands now serve, which have handled the Body of the Lord? And how shall your lips and tongue now speak, which have tasted His Blood and know His love? And how shall your life in the body not matter very much, since Christ and His Spirit dwell with you in your body?

21 November 2009

Learn the Lesson of His Tender Tree, and Know that His Summer Is Near

Pay attention to what you see.

Give ear to what you hear from God, the Lord.

All around you and within you, there is sin and death, decay and destruction. Everything within and without is wearing out and wasting away. Nothing that you see and feel and experience will last. Nothing that you know so well and are so prone to fear, love and trust will remain.

Number your days, and know how short your life is. Consider your end, that your lifetime is nothing. There is no strength of man that survives.

What, then, is your hope?

Your hope is in the Lord.

Give ear, again, to what He says. Pay attention to what He does.

He deals with sin, which is the problem. It is the underlying problem, not so much as bad behavior to be punished, but as a turning away from God, the Creator, who is alone the Author and Giver of life.

He deals with sin by sending forth a law and establishing His justice. Now His righteousness is near, and His salvation has gone forth. Although the heavens and the earth will perish — the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment — His salvation and His righteousness are forever.

His righteousness and salvation are forever, and they are for you.

His arm will judge His people. Therefore, wait upon His arm in hope. For with His mighty, outstretched arm, in the palm of His hand, He suffers the tribulation and the final judgment of sin in Himself. He, Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, atones for the sins of the world. He rectifies what was broken in all of creation. He reconciles the world to God: in Himself.

The Son has left His home with the Father in heaven and has come forth on a journey to redeem you and save you. As true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary — as your brother in the flesh, with a body and blood like yours — He has waited in faith upon His Father (not knowing the day nor hour). He has heeded and relied upon His Father’s faithful Word. He has taken heed, stayed awake, and been alert; so that, when the day and hour came, He was ready.

Learn the lesson of His Tree. Consider its tenderness, its leaves and its fruit, which are for the healing of the nations. They are no less so for you. He has sent forth His messengers with its rich and lush produce to gather His elect from the four winds, to call His disciples from all nations: To call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify His whole Church, on earth as it is in heaven; daily and richly to forgive you all of your sins.

He has set His servants to care for His household. To feed and clothe, to nurture and teach His family. To keep watch, both day and night. To guard your coming and going by His Word. To guide all your days and your deeds in His Peace.

So, also, to you He says: "Be on the alert!" Take heed. Be watching for Him and waiting upon Him. Set your heart on the pilgrim’s way, to live by faith as a sojourner through this world, a wayfarer on earth. Lift up your head, your heart and your mind, unto Christ your Savior; unto Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, who shall cause you to stand in His glorious presence, blameless and beloved before the God and Father.

Keep yourself in that Love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.

But how?

He has taught you how, and He continues to catechize you in the way you are to go, which is the way of life in Him:

Build yourself up on your most holy faith by giving attention to the Word of Christ. Hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it. Avail yourself of the Gospel, that is, the preaching of Christ, His Word of Holy Absolution, the administration of His Body and His Blood in remembrance of Him. Return daily to the significance of your Holy Baptism in His Name. You will not overdo it or get too much of Christ Jesus.

Pray in the Holy Spirit: at all times, without ceasing. Not by your own reason and strength, but by the Word of Christ, as He has spoken to you and taught you to pray (and promised to hear you). Pray throughout your days, in the morning when you rise, and in the evening when you lay you down to sleep; when you sit down to eat, and when you have eaten your fill. Let your life itself be a kind of prayer, as you go about your vocations and serve your neighbors in love. Pray also within the Communion of the Church, as belonging to the Body and Bride of Christ, the Lord.

Wait eagerly, even anxiously, for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, unto eternal life. Set your hope fully on Him, and fix your eyes on Him by faith in His Word and promises. Do not be consumed by the temporal, perishable things of this life on earth, but comfort and strengthen yourself with the divine, eternal things of Christ.

And as you wait upon His mercy, so have mercy on your neighbor: Comfort and encourage the doubting in their weakness and fear. Save others by snatching them out of the fire with admonition and exhortation; but call them to repentance in all fear and humility before God, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Have mercy, as you also depend upon the mercy of God in Christ; for He is merciful indeed. Be gentle and compassionate, as He is gentle and compassionate with you. Forgive, as you yourself are freely forgiven.

Have no fear, and do not despair; for the Lord helps you in your weakness and doubts, and He saves you from the fire. He persists in His constant prayer and intercession for you, as He ever stands before the Father in heaven as your great High Priest. He faithfully speaks His Word to you, His Law and His Gospel, so that you are not left to your own devices of sin and death.

In calling you daily to repentance, He calls you daily to faith in His forgiveness of all your sins, to find your Sabbath rest and perfect peace in His righteousness and holiness, in His innocence and blessedness forever. Indeed, the forgiveness that is already yours in His holy, precious Blood delivers you from every evil of body and soul, unto that day and that hour when He shall finally call you from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven. Even now His fruitful Cross shines the summer sunshine of His faith and love upon you in His Peace.

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

14 November 2009

Draw Near to God in the Body of Christ

How shall you endure to the end, and be saved?
How shall you go to heaven? How shall you draw near to God and live?
There are all manner of impressive possibilities clamoring and competing for your attention and allegiance: the nation, your family, your self, and any number of different "churches"; then there's hard work, money and investments, "love," popularity and fun, entertainment and fashion.
But everything on earth will be torn down, and the earth itself will perish and pass away.
Only Christ and His Word remain, steadfast and forever, risen from the dead and seated at the Right Hand of the Father. Look to Him, and cling to Him, and confess His Name. Listen to Him, trust His Word and live according to it.
And be on your guard. Do not be frightened, but see to it that no one misleads you. For not everyone who claims to come in the Name of Jesus, and not everyone who calls Him, "Lord, Lord," speaks by His Holy Spirit. But, as for you, listen for the preaching of His Cross.
The preaching of the Cross is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name. That is the voice of Christ which saves you. For it is by His Cross and Passion that He has redeemed you from sin and death, and by His Cross that He brings you into heaven, into the presence of God, to live.
But know this: His Cross divides the world. It divides nations and families, kingdoms, and churches, and your own heart and life. It kills, in order to make alive. It wounds, in order to heal. And it must be so.
So it is that, if you belong to the Crucified One, you will be hated and handed over to death; because of the Name of Christ Jesus, which you bear. You will be questioned, accused and put to the test; punished and put to death, because of His Word.
These are the beginnings of the birth pangs, the narrow passage of Crucifixion with Christ, by which you are delivered out of death and damnation and finally raised from the dust of the earth unto the life everlasting in heaven.
If you renounce the Cross of Christ — if you deny His Name, reject His Word and forsake Him — you shall not stand in the judgment or survive.
But how, then, shall you endure to the end, and be saved?
For your sins not only accuse and condemn you, but they weigh you down with guilt and shame; they ensnare you and entangle you in death.
Think about it: Are you strong and courageous like Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, who stood his ground under the glare of church and state, or brave and steadfast like the holy martyrs, who did not love their life on earth but remained faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ even unto death? Or do you betray the Lord for silver and gold, or deny Him out of fear?
Be on your guard! And see to it that no one misleads you.
But do not be frightened.
Hold fast the confession of your hope in Christ Jesus. That hope will not disappoint you, for He is faithful.
His great prince, St. Michael the Archangel, and His legion of holy angels, arise to guard and keep you for His sake and by His Blood of the New Testament.
It is by and through His holy, precious blood, and by the veil He has opened for you, that is, His flesh, that you draw near to God — here and now — and you enter into the holy of holies of the true Temple, which is the Body of Christ.
Draw near with confidence. Do not shrink back or despair. If you have turned away and wandered in the past, turn back now and draw near. Do not be frightened.
By His Cross, with His own blood, by the sacrifice of Himself, once for all, He has atoned for all your sins forever. And not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.
He has washed you with pure water, with His Word and Holy Spirit, and sanctified you in both body and soul, perfected by His humble obedience unto death and by His Resurrection from the dead; perfected by His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness. He has cleansed your conscience of every stain. There is, therefore, no condemnation.
By the preaching of that Gospel, which is His forgiveness of sins, He calls the nations to Himself, and to God the Father in Him. So does He call you to enter in, to abide with Him, to recline at His bosom (at His Supper) in the bosom of His Father.
For He has endured to the end — even unto death upon the Cross. And He has been saved out of death and the grave, in His Resurrection, for you.
You, therefore, enter into His Passion, His Resurrection and salvation, by eating and drinking His Body and His Blood at His Word.
Here at His Altar are the fruits of His sacrifice, which has ended all sacrifice for sin, because it has atoned for all sin forever.
Here, in His holy body and precious blood, is the Temple of God and the Holy of Holies, which, having risen from the dead, shall never die again; which shall never be torn down, and shall never perish or pass away. This Body and Blood of Christ, which are given and poured out for you, have conquered death and the grave; and these also now conquer death in you.
For, as Jesus clearly says, this Body and Blood of His are given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins; and where there is such free and full forgiveness of sins, there is no longer any death, but everlasting life and eternal salvation.
As you are assembled here, together with your brothers and sisters in Christ, in His Name, to eat and drink His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion, you live and abide in the presence of God, and you reside in His Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.
Do not forsake this assembly, but draw near to God and enter His heaven here, as He draws near to you in the flesh and blood of Christ, the beloved Son.
And so living by His grace, and living in His presence, abiding as a member of His Body, in His Temple, brothers and sisters, parents and children, friends in Christ, love one another; for all of your sins, and all of theirs, are forgiven.
Behold, what beautiful stones you are, built into a holy habitation. Even now the Lord your God is in your midst, dwelling in His Temple with such loving-kindness. Make the circuit of His city, set here on His holy hill; look well, and take it to heart, as you walk round about this place. See the tower of His Cross; consider the bulwark of His Baptism; examine the stronghold of His Sacrament. This is your God forever; and He is your Savior evermore.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

07 November 2009

The Body and Bride of Christ

The Body of Christ is conceived and born in Holy Baptism.

His preaching of the Gospel, which is the forgiveness of sins, is the Breath of Life which animates His Body.

And the Sacrament of the Altar is the beating heart of His Body.

So, also,

The Bride of Christ is betrothed to her Groom in Holy Baptism.

His Word of Holy Absolution, that is, the forgiveness of sins, is His solemn vow to have and to hold her, even against death and hell; it is His solemn pledge of faithfulness forever and ever.

And the Holy Communion is the undefiled marriage bed within the inner sanctum of the bridal chamber, in the house that Christ has built for His beloved.


To live as the Body and Bride of Christ, is to live by faith in His Ministry of the Gospel; which faith and life He accomplishes in us by the gracious gift and working of His Word and Holy Spirit in the preaching and administration of His Gospel.

So are the children of God conceived and born of His Bride, the Church, by His grace.

03 November 2009

Lovin' it in Lala Land

A Yahoo! news blurb last week alerted me to a new arrangement between Google, Facebook, and "Lala," an online music service that I had never heard about before. Evidently it has been around for awhile, but Lala is entirely new to me. As I've had opportunity to begin playing around with it, I'm really lovin' it, and I suspect that others might appreciate it, too.

Lala has a catalog of 7 million songs. You can listen to any of those songs in its entirety for no charge. That's better than the 20- or 30-second song clips that you can listen to on Amazon or elsewhere. If you want to check out a new song or artist, you can do so at Lala without any cost.

You can also upload your own music collection onto your Lala site, and then access your music from any other online computer. That's nice for me, as I've been methodically ripping my CDs onto my laptop over the past year or so; now, via Lala, I can access them and listen to them from pretty much anywhere else.

Of course you can purchase music from Lala, too, although you don't have to buy anything. You can add songs to your online collection for 10 cents apiece; or download them as MP3 files for 89 cents. I'm not buying any downloads, but there's a lot of "one-hit wonders" out there, and I'm glad to add some of those to my online collection of songs. Then I can listen to them on demand when nostalgia strikes.

Lala is now linked up with Facebook, too, in such a way that you can share songs and make music recommendations, or let your virtual friends know what you are listening to (or not).

For me, this is all quite exciting. If you'd like to check it out for yourself, you can do so here.

28 October 2009


Legalism is not measured by the quantity or quality of laws that one has, but by the attitude of the heart toward the Law, and by the way in which one uses the laws that he has.

One may be every bit as legalistic with one law, or a few, as with a great many rules and regulations.

But one may also have many laws and diligently keep them, and one may even make laws for others to follow, without being at all legalistic about it.

Legalism is a matter of striving to keep the Law, and of requiring others to keep the Law, as though by the Law to redeem and justify oneself. That is a false and misleading dream, we rightly sing. And where that lie prevails, it doesn't matter how many or how few the rules and regulations may be, nor how easy or difficult they are to follow; it is legalistic to insist upon the Law as the way and the means of salvation. Neither does it matter whether one is commanding or forbidding; if it is done as though to accomplish righteousness before God, it is legalistic.

But the Law of God is good and wise, and it is to be used lawfully. It reveals what is the good and acceptable will of God; and in doing that, it exposes sin and actually makes it worse, in order to begin the Lord's good work of repentance in the one He confronts and addresses. Law and order in the world are also among His good gifts of daily bread, for the preservation of human life, and ultimately for the free course of the Gospel and the protection of the Church on earth. Law and order in the Church are also meet, right and salutary, when they are used to serve the Ministry of the Gospel and the common confession of Christ. Here there is not legalism, but its opposite.

It is no more legalistic to say that there is a right and wrong way for the Gospel to be preached and the Sacraments to be administered, than it is to say that Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Nor is it legalistic to say that, for the sake of clarity, consistency and the unity of a common confession, the Church on earth shall conduct herself according to certain standards; even if those standards are neither commanded nor forbidden by God, but are agreed upon in love, in the freedom of the Gospel. It is not legalistic, but precisely evangelical, to insist upon those standards. For the correct response to legalism is not the chaos of anything-goes, but an insistence upon the faithful preaching and administration of the Gospel. Love will require what is good and right on behalf of the neighbor; and love will refuse to allow what is harmful.

The anarchy which says that every man is free to do whatever seems right in his own eyes, is only a more perverse form of legalism. Then redemption and life are located in the self-chosen law of "to thine own self be true," and the solitary self becomes the sole standard and arbiter of righteousness. Better to be driven to do what a Christian ought to do, than to be cut loose from the godly discipline of the Church and left to one's own devices. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be either one of those extremes, but there is a more excellent way. That is to use the Law and all laws lawfully, not for the sake of self-justification, but for the sake of self-sacrificing love; because love, which is the fulfillment of the Law, does no harm to the neighbor but thinks more highly of others than of self. That is not the way of legalism, but of Christ.

St. Simon and St. Jude, the Apostles

The fact that you have come to worship in the Lord’s House is no guarantee that you are walking in His Word. Your "worship" is no protection against the judgment of His Law. But if you would live, and not die, then do what He commands you.

Love one another. That is a summary of the Law; that, in love for the Lord your God, you love your neighbor as your own self, and serve your neighbor with your whole body and life.

What, then, should you do? Where do you begin, and how shall you proceed?

It is not a matter of your own choice, but of where the Lord has chosen to appoint you. Wherever He has called you to be, wherever He has stationed you, that is where you live and love. That is where you serve the "other" whom the Lord has set before you.

Do so according to His Word, that is, according to His commandments, which determine and define and describe what "love" is. In brief, though, do good and not evil. For love gives good things and does no harm to the neighbor.

Where you have done harm, make amends. Where you have failed to do good, now do it.

Mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God. Lest He bring misfortune and calamity upon you; lest He remove His Word from your midst.

It’s really a question of who your friends are. Not that you pick and choose the people you will love; nor that you show partiality or favoritism; but that you are either a friend of Christ Jesus, or a friend of the world.

Who do you love? Jesus, or the world?

Where do you look for life? In Christ Jesus, or the world?

If you are a friend of the world, you’ll perish with the world and all its wealth.

If you are a friend of Christ Jesus, then you will be hated by the world; you’ll be persecuted and perish with Christ Jesus. But so will you also rise and live with Him, and partake of His inheritance, imperishable in heaven.

Don’t suppose that you’ll play both sides against the middle; not without getting crushed in between the Rock and the hard place.

The other Jude (Iscariot) tried that and was lost. And the other Simon (Peter) was in danger of the same, denying his friendship with Jesus. But by the grace of God in that same Lord Jesus Christ, Simon Peter was called to repentance, and he was saved to bear much fruit.

You, then, where you have denied your Lord Jesus: Repent — and befriend Him, who has befriended you.

That is the key, dearly beloved of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has called you His friend, and He has surely become a best friend forever to you.

How so? First of all, by laying down His Life for you. Then also, by preaching His Word to you; and, with His voice, giving His Father to you. For hear how He has named you with His Name, which He has from the Father and shares with the Father forever.

Thus, when the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ raised Him from the dead, He caused you also to be born again, His child, to a new and living hope, unto life everlasting.

That is what is yours in Christ Jesus, by grace through faith in His Gospel. That is what has been given to you in Holy Baptism. And all of that is given to you by the preaching of His Word. Which is why we rejoice in the Holy Apostles of Christ Jesus, and why we remember with thanksgiving St. Simon and St. Jude (not Peter and Iscariot) on this day.

The Lord Jesus chose these men, who were lightly esteemed by the world and martyred for His Name, but befriended by and beloved of God.

Why did He choose them? For His own Love’s sake. For the Love of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit, He loved them, even unto death; and He loves the Church, including you, to whom He appointed them to preach.

As He has appointed you to love and serve your neighbor, so has He chosen and appointed St. Simon and St. Jude, and countless other pastors and teachers ever since, to love and serve you and His Church with His Word. And wherever the Seed of His Word is thus sown, there He bears much fruit, which remains even to this day.

The fruit of His Word is the fruit of the Cross, and so it is borne in suffering, great distress and martyrdom. St. Simon and St. Jude are remembered together, because they are said to have suffered and died together in Persia. You also bear the Cross because of Jesus’ Name.

But you, like the Holy Apostles (for you are no less beloved than they), are protected by the Word of Christ through faith in His Resurrection from the dead.

Though you cannot see Him, nor yet feel and experience His Resurrection in your mortal flesh, you love and trust in Him, and hope in His flesh and blood; because He has chosen and befriended you. He loves you, and He strengthens you, chiefly by forgiving you all your sins, and by giving you His own eternal life: His beautiful, indestructable life.

His Body was made desolate upon the Cross; He became a curse, like Shiloh and Jerusalem; He was destroyed like the once great Temple. But in His Resurrection from the dead, the Lord your God has established His House on earth.

The Lord’s House is found wherever the Word of Christ the Crucified is preached; wherever Holy Baptism is administered in His Name; wherever His Body and His Blood are given and poured out in remembrance of Him.

Not only that, but, as your dear Lord Jesus feeds you with the fruits of His Cross on the one hand, it is also the case that His Resurrection and Ascension, His own crucified and risen Body and His holy, precious Blood, ARE your true and salutary worship of the living God.

In Him, you and your prayer and thanksgiving are received unto your Father in heaven, and you are saved in the great company of the Apostles, Prophets, martyrs and all saints forever.

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