29 August 2009

Crucified and Risen with Christ Jesus

Even in death (especially in death!), St. John is still preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He is still proclaiming Christ, the Lamb of God, and always pointing to Him. He is still preaching the Resurrection.
To preach this Baptism of Christ is dangerous and deadly; and to receive this Baptism and submit to it is likewise dangerous and deadly. First of all because it crucifies you, and cuts off your head, and buries you in the dust of the earth whence you were taken.
It exposes, accuses, and punishes your sin: your lust, your greed, your selfishness, your pride, your fear and doubt; the hardness of your heart; the grudges that you bear and harbor; the grasping of your hands, and the dark confusion of your head.
When St. John calls you to repentance, he isn’t playing games or offering "advice." There is no hidden strategy or secret agenda. Wherever in your life there is sin, whether in your heart or hands or mouth — wherever you are sinning in thought, word or deed — Repent. Fear God. Turn away from evil. Do good.
Is it hard? Will it hurt?
That isn’t yet the half of it!
It is impossible, and it will kill you.
When St. John calls you to repent and points you to Christ Jesus, he bids you come and die.
The waters of your Holy Baptism are your grave, wherein you are buried with Christ the Crucified.
To share His Baptism is to share His Cross. So in this way, also, your Baptism is dangerous and deadly. The world will not love you, but hates you, because of it. The powers of this world will not protect you, but will persecute you and put you in prison; they will put you to death, if and when they can, for the Name of Christ.
If your Baptism crucifies you and puts you to death by way of repentance, it also lays the Cross of Christ upon your neck for the sake of faith and love.
What you suffer under His Cross is not pointless or meaningless, even if it all seems hopeless. St. John could have supposed that his work was done, and that all had been for nothing, when he was locked up in prison; when his beautiful feet were shackled and chained in a dungeon. But by the grace of God, through faith in Christ — did you hear it? — he kept on preaching.
Herod heard but did not heed the preaching of St. John. But, even though Herod finally cut off his head and shut up his beautiful lips, St. John’s innocent suffering and death still preach Christ and Him Crucified, also here and now to you.
Do not shut your ears to St. John’s witness, and do not despair of your own vocation under the Cross.
Suffer patiently, as you are called to suffer (and die), and serve faithfully, wherever you are called to serve, even if it be in a deep dark dungeon.
Do not despair, but believe the words and promises of God. For he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.
Love and trust in Him who has lived and died and risen again for you; who died, and yet, behold, He lives; who was baptized for you, and crucified, dead and buried for you, and who has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity for you.
But, O Lord, how long? How long?
How long must you suffer and die, before you shall be vindicated and live?
In truth, It is finished. All has been accomplished and fulfilled in Christ Jesus, in His Baptism by St. John in the Jordan, in His Cross and Resurrection. Those who live and die by faith in Him, shall never die, but live with Him in His Kingdom in His everlasting righteousness and holiness, in His innocence and blessedness.
Your suffering and your death find their place, their meaning, their purpose, and their fulfillment in the Cup of Christ, the Cup of Blessing which we bless.
And you find your rest here under His Altar, under the shelter of His wings, in the Body of your Savior, in the Bosom of your dear God and Father.
Rest here, and be at peace, whether you live or die. You are the Lord’s. Your real life is hidden in and with Him, safe and secure forever and always.
Even now, His miraculous powers are at work in you: to cast out all your demons, to heal all your iniquities, to forgive all your trespasses, to raise you from the dead.
It is all by the way of His Cross; and therefore, no less, it is in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection and the power of His indestructible life.
For He has so identified Himself with you, and bound Himself to you in Holy Baptism, and here at His Altar with His own holy Body and precious Blood, that as He lives, so shall you live forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

24 August 2009

Come and See

The greater things that Jesus promised to Nathaniel (Bartholomew), He has accomplished and fulfilled by His Cross and manifested in His Resurrection from the dead.

He has opened heaven to all who believe and are baptized into Him. And in His own crucified and risen flesh, He reveals the very Glory of the true and only God.

So does He graciously choose and purpose to come to you; because He sees you in love, even from afar, and He knows you in His mercy and kindness. He seeks you out and finds you, and He calls you to Himself: to follow Him.

Come, then, and behold the Glory of God in Him. For Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of the Holy Scriptures, of all the Law and the Prophets, of all that God the Lord has spoken and promised from the beginning.

You see, the Word of God has become Flesh, and here in this place, in His Church on earth, He dwells with you. In His Body and His Blood, given and poured out, heaven is not only opened to you (as it surely is!), but the heart and center of heaven is here. That is why the angels and archangels, and all the saints and martyrs, including St. Bartholomew, and all the company of heaven, that whole great cloud of witnesses surround you and accompany you in this place, encircling the Lamb of God upon His Throne.

Can such good and great things truly be given to you in such earthen vessels and by such human hands? Indeed, they can. They are. Precisely because it is solely by the power and wisdom of God, and not by any reason or strength of man. The wisdom of God makes foolish the world's wisdom; and the power of God is made perfect in weakness, in the Cross and suffering, in the preaching of the Gospel, even in the midst of death, and above all else in the forgiveness of sins for Christ Jesus' sake.

It is for such a purpose that the Lord Jesus called Philip and Nathaniel Bartholomew, not only to be His disciples (numbered among His Christians), but to be counted among His Twelve holy Apostles.

You see it already beginning in Jesus coming to Philip and calling him, and then in Philip going to Nathaniel and bringing him to Jesus. And that great work has continued, from Christ and His Apostles, in the Ministry of the Gospel, even to this present day and to this place.

This is where your help comes from the Lord. He comes to you here, in the flesh, in order to save you from death and give you life. Even in suffering and every affliction, you are not crushed or destroyed, but raised up with Christ Jesus — even into heaven itself, to abide forever with Him in the Glory of the Father.

Friend in Christ, dear disciple of Jesus, receive this holy tradition in His Body and His Blood, and by the confession of His Word, call others to Him, also, as Philip called Nathaniel.

Do so in this sure and certain confidence: The same Lord who saw you and knew you, and sought you out, and found you, and called you to Himself in love — the same Lord desires also the repentance and salvation of your family, friends and neighbors. He also sees them and knows them and would call them to Himself, perhaps through you; and by whatever means He may call them, it is most surely in His steadfast love and mercy.

You have no power or ability to change their hearts, but you can bid them come and see what you see, and to hear what your ears are blessed to hear: the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus, which is for all the nations, through the free and full forgiveness of all sins. It is that great forgiveness which is given to you here, in His Body and His Blood, unto the life everlasting. Amen! Amen! This is most certainly true.

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

23 August 2009

Eat Your Bread with a Clean Heart

If you would honor the Lord your God and serve Him rightly, hear His voice and obey Him. He needs nothing from your hand, but for His Name’s sake do what He commands. Do not presume to flatter Him with your lips while contradicting His Word with your behavior.

But, no, if you would honor God, then honor your father and mother, whom He has set next after Himself in authority over you. Do not despise or anger your parents, but serve and obey them, love and cherish them. If you are a child, listen to your father and mother; gladly do as they tell you; and do not grumble or complain against them. If you are a grown adult, nevertheless, honor your parents, through whom God gave you life and cared for you; and now, you care for them in their old age.

And if you would honor the Lord your God, as a member of His Church, do not commit adultery, but love and cherish your own spouse, and respect your neighbor’s marriage. Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. Husbands, love and serve your own wives, as Christ loves His Church and gives Himself for her. Be faithful to your wedding vows, not only in what you say but in all that you do. Avert your eyes from temptation. Guard your heart and mind against lust by the prayer and meditation of God’s Word. And serve your own wife or husband with your words and with your body.

It is by such love for your parents and your spouse, and by loving your children and your other neighbors, as God has commanded in each case, that you honor Him and worship Him from the heart, not only with your lips but with your life.

To live and love in this way is to live by faith in Christ, according to the Word of the Lord.

Apart from this faith in Him, His Word is a closed book to you, which you can neither read nor comprehend. And apart from faith in His Word, you neither know the Lord your God nor can you come to Him or worship Him. Nor can you love your neighbor as the Lord commands, not even your parents, your spouse, or your children. Nor shall you live at all, but apart from Him you die, inwardly and outwardly, day after day, now and ever.

You cannot redeem yourself from death, and there is no righteousness of your own by which you can obtain life for yourself. No washing or wringing of your hands will do it.

True life is found only in God, the Lord, and comes only from Him, by His grace, through His Word. He is the Potter, and you are the clay, His workmanship. It is only as His child that you live.

Do not harden your heart against Him, and do not attempt to hide your heart away from Him. You will not live without Him, but neither will you bribe or trick Him, and you cannot take Him by force to constrain Him. No outward pretense or charade will bring you to Him; and He is not within your grasp, that you should bring Him down from heaven to you.

If you dishonor your parents, if you curse them with your lips or in your heart, you must die. If you commit adultery, whether with your flesh or in the lust of your eyes, in your heart and mind, you must die. You are far from the Lord, and He is hidden from you.

But you are not hidden from Him.

And His heart is not far from you, nor hardened against you.

For He is the Father who always loves His Son; and for the sake of that beloved Son, the Father loves the Bride of Christ and all her dear children.

For He is the Son who always loves and honors His Father. And in that fear, love and trust, He leaves His Father, in order to seek His Bride and give Himself for her, to present her to Himself and cleave to her forever.

For He is the Husband who loves His Bride, the Church. He lays down His life for her, to save her life from death; to forgive her all her sins; to cleanse her by His blood; to sanctify her by the washing of water with the Word. Therefore she is beautiful and glorious with His Glory; even as He takes her to Himself in love and gives to her His own Name, which He has from His Father.

So has He done for you, dear child of God.

He has given Himself for you, even unto death on the Cross, in order to redeem you with His holy, precious blood, and to clothe you with His own perfect righteousness.

In Holy Baptism, He has betrothed you to Himself, and dressed you in a flawless white wedding garment. There is no spot, nor wrinkle, nor any blemish in you, neither inside nor out; not at all in His eyes. The Father has given you into His hands, and He delights in you with all His heart.

Now live by His grace. If the world accuses you of sin and every evil, cling to your Bridegroom, Christ Jesus, who is your Savior and your Head. He bears your reproach and removes it. There is no condemnation that shall stand against you; not ever. His Father is now also your Father, who vindicates you and raises you up from affliction into increasing gladness; out of darkness into light; out of the silence of fear and doubt, into the joyous singing of faith in His forgiveness.

Listen to the sound of His sweet voice, and follow the Light of His Word upon your path.

It is true that, bearing His Name, you bear His Cross. You suffer and die with Him. You are crucified, dead and buried with Him. But so also are you raised with Him, to live with Him. And the fruits of His life-giving Cross are your daily bread.

Indeed, you are one flesh with Him, a member of His Bride, and therefore of His Body, because you eat and drink from His own hand His Body and His Blood.

But how dare you eat this Bread and drink this Cup? Are you not sinful and unclean? Are you not unworthy? Have you not broken God’s commandments, disobeyed His Word and lusted after other gods?

But, no, you are already clean because of the Word of Christ, who loves you and forgives you. He has washed you in His innocence with water and His Spirit in your Baptism. And as often as your hands and feet are soiled with the dirt and sin of life in this world, day by day, He forgives you with His Word of Absolution.

For He is a Husband who nourishes and cherishes His Bride, as His own Body, even with His own flesh. He has bound Himself to you, and you to Him, with His own Name.

He has carried you across His threshold into His own house and home. He seats you at His Table, and here pledges Himself to you most personally and permanently. He shall never leave you nor forsake you.

So does He honor and worship and glorify His Father, and so does He love and honor His Bride in purity, in righteousness, innocence and blessedness forever.

Here, then, dearly beloved, entrust yourself to Him. Receive His gifts. Hear His Word and behold His Glory in the Gospel. Do not be afraid, but rejoice in your Lord, who rejoices over you in love.

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

21 August 2009

Favorite German Hymns

Because Olga asked; and because I've been thinking about hymns a lot lately; and because it may also be of interest and assistance to Sandra and others; and because hymns are simply that fundamental and important to catechesis, confession and the life of the Church, here are 120 of my "favorite" hymns from the German, most of which have been published (in English) in the Lutheran Service Book, as indicated, and the rest of which should have been.

Savior of the Nations, Come (Ambrose; Luther; LSB 332)
Once He Came in Blessing (Horn; LSB 333)
O Lord, How Shall I Meet You (Gerhardt; LSB 334)
Comfort, Comfort Ye My People (Olearius; LSB 347)
Come, Thou Precious Ransom, Come (Olearius; LSB 350)
O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide (von Spee; LSB 355)
From Heaven Above to Earth I Come (Luther; LSB 358)
All My Heart Again Rejoices (Gerhardt; LSB 360)
O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is (Gerhardt; LSB 372)
Come, Your Hearts and Voices Raising (Gerhardt; LSB 375)
Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light (Rist; LSB 378)
We Praise You, Jesus, at Your Birth (Luther; LSB 382)
Let All Together Praise Our God (Herman; LSB 389)
O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright (Nicolai; LSB 395)
To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord (Luther; LSB 406)

Christ, the Life of All the Living (Homburg; LSB 420)
Jesus, Grant That Balm and Healing (Heermann; LSB 421)
A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth (Gerhardt; LSB 438)
O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken (Heermann; LSB 439)
Jesus, I Will Ponder Now (von Birken; LSB 440)
O Darkest Woe (von Spee; Rist; LSB 448)
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (Bernard; Gerhardt; LSB 450)
Upon the Cross Extended (Gerhardt; LSB 453)
Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands (Luther; LSB 458)
Awake, My Heart, with Gladness (Gerhardt; LSB 467)
With High Delight Let Us Unite (Vetter; LSB 483)

Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord (Luther; LSB 497)
Triune God, Be Thou Our Stay (Luther; LSB 505)
The Day Is Surely Drawing Near (Ringwaldt; LSB 508)
The Bridegroom Soon Will Call Us (Walter; LSB 514)
Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying (Nicolai; LSB 516)
Lord God, to Thee We Give All Praise (Melanchthon; Eber; LSB 522)
Jesus Has Come and Brings Pleasure (Allendorf; LSB 533)
One Thing’s Needful (Schröder; LSB 536)

Salvation unto Us Has Come (Speratus; LSB 555)
Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice (Luther; LSB 556)
Seek Where You May to Find a Way (Weissel; LSB 557)
Oh, How Great Is Your Compassion (Olearius; LSB 559)
All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall (Spengler; LSB 562)
By Grace I’m Saved (Scheidt; LSB 566)
If Your Beloved Son, O God (Heermann; LSB 568)
These Are the Holy Ten Commands (Luther; LSB 581)
Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide (Melanchthon; Selnecker; LSB 585)

God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It (Neumeister; LSB 594)
All Christians Who Have Been Baptized (Gerhardt; LSB 596)
From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee (Luther; LSB 607)
Jesus Sinners Doth Receive (Neumeister; LSB 609)
"As Surely as I Live," God Said (Herman; LSB 614)
When in the Hour of Deepest Need (Eber; LSB 615)
O Lord, We Praise Thee (Luther; LSB 617)
Lord Jesus Christ, Life-Giving Bread (Rist; LSB 625)
Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior (Hus; Luther; LSB 627)
Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness (Franck; LSB 636)
Wide Open Stand the Gates (Löhe; LSB 639)
O Living Bread from Heaven (Rist; LSB 642)
Lord Jesus Christ, the Church’s Head (Mentzer; LSB 647)

Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word (Luther; LSB 655)
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (Luther; LSB 656)
Preserve Your Word, O Savior (Gryphius; LSB 658)
Lord of Our Life (von Löwenstern; LSB 659)
Rise, My Soul, to Watch and Pray (Freystein; LSB 663)
O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe (Fabricius; LSB 666)
Jerusalem, O City Fair and High (Meyfart; LSB 674)
Oh, How Blest Are They (Dach; LSB 679)

Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me (Gerhardt; LSB 683)
Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus (von Birken; LSB 685)
O Holy Spirit, Grant Us Grace (Ringwaldt; LSB 693)
O God, My Faithful God (Heermann; LSB 696)
Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart (Schalling; LSB 708)
From God Can Nothing Move Me (Helmbold; LSB 713)
Who Trusts in God a Strong Abode (Magdeburg; LSB 714)
I Walk in Danger All the Way (Brorson; LSB 716)
If God Himself Be for Me (Gerhardt; LSB 724)
Evening and Morning (Gerhardt; LSB 726)

All Depends on Our Possessing (LSB 732)
I Trust, O Lord, Your Holy Name (Reusner; LSB 734)
Rejoice, My Heart, Be Glad and Sing (Gerhardt; LSB 737)
Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense (Schwerin; LSB 741)
Jesus, Priceless Treasure (Franck; LSB 743)
In God, My Faithful God (LSB 745)
If Thou But Trust in God to Guide Thee (Neumark; LSB 750)
Entrust Your Days and Burdens (Gerhardt; LSB 754)
In the Very Midst of Life (Luther; LSB 755)
Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me (Gerhardt; LSB 756)
The Will of God Is Always Best (von Preussen; LSB 758)
What God Ordains Is Always Good (Rodigast; LSB 760)

Our Father, Who from Heaven Above (Luther; LSB 766)
To God the Holy Spirit Let Us Pray (Luther; LSB 768)
Praise the Almighty (Herrnschmidt; LSB 797)
O God of God, O Light of Light (Julian; LSB 810)
Sing Praise to God the Highest Good (Schütz; LSB 819)
My Soul, Now Praise Your Maker (Gramann; LSB 820)
May God Bestow on Us His Grace (Luther; LSB 823)
O Christ, Our True and Only Light (Heermann; LSB 839)

O Blessed, Holy Trinity (Behm; LSB 876)
Now Rest beneath Night’s Shadow (Gerhardt; LSB 880)
Now the Light Has Gone Away (Havergal; LSB 887)
Now Thank We All Our God (Rinckart; LSB 895)
O Holy Spirit, Enter In (Schirmer; LSB 913)
Abide, O Dearest Jesus (Stegmann; LSB 919)

In Peace and Joy I Now Depart (Luther; LSB 938)
Holy God, We Praise Thy Name (Latin/German; LSB 940)
All Glory Be to God on High (Decius; LSB 947)
All Glory Be to God Alone (Luther; LSB 948)
We All Believe in One True God (Luther; LSB 954)
Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old (Luther; LSB 960)

I Trust, O Christ, in You Alone (Hubert; LSB 972e; TLH 349; LW 357)
I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises (Gerhardt; LSB 977e; TLH 25; LW 439)

And a dozen more that should have been in LSB


(Ohio Synod's Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal #25)

(American Lutheran Hymnal #645)

(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #129)


(American Lutheran Hymnal #635)

NOW LET US COME BEFORE HIM (Gerhardt) (TLH 122; LW 184)


(Australian Lutheran Hymnal #126)

(Ohio Synod's Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal #339)

(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #405)


16 August 2009

The Wisdom of God Is the Way of Life

True wisdom and the way of real life are found in the fear of the Lord. Such fear is not to be in terror of the Lord, but to honor His divine authority as the Author and Giver of life; and, with that honor, also to love and trust in Him above and beyond anything and everything else.

You know that wisdom and way of life in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. For He alone has the knowledge of the Holy One. He lives in, with, and from the Father eternally. He lives in love for His Father and for His whole creation. Therefore, He comes down from heaven, from the bosom of the Father, as the true and living Bread. The Word becomes Flesh, in order to give Himself in the flesh for the life of the world. He gives His flesh as a sacrifice of atonement for all sins. He also then gives His flesh as true Food, that you may eat of Him and live.

You know this wisdom and this way of life in Christ by the Word that He preaches to you, which is Spirit, Truth, and Life. And you know it by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection, whereby you have been enlightened and clothed with His righteousness and holiness.

As a Christian, a disciple of Christ Jesus, a beloved child of God the Father, walk as a child of the Light. Walk in the wisdom of Christ Jesus, which is the way of life and light and love. Live and walk in faith toward God; which is to fear, love and trust in Him above all things. And live in fervent love for your neighbor, especially your brothers and sisters in Christ. That is wisdom.

Sacrifice yourself in love for others. Give yourself in love to your neighbor in his need. Speak words that are good and right and true, by confessing the Word of Christ that has graciously been spoken to you. Above all, forgive those who trespass against you, as Christ forgives you in mercy.

Do not harbor anger, resentment or bitterness against anyone, no matter how they may hurt you; and do not give yourself over to envy and jealousy. Rather, let the melody of the Spirit ring forth in your heart, and sing the song of peace in Christ to your neighbor. And in all things, give thanks and praise to God.

This is how you live as a Christian; though it is hard and difficult, because it is the way of the Cross. Indeed, it is impossible; you cannot do it at all, except that Christ calls you by His Gospel.

Do not be scandalized by this Cross of Christ, which you are given to carry in the fear of the Lord. It is not the way of death, as it often feels or seems, but the way of life and the true wisdom of God.

Be on your guard against the temptations of the world, of the devil, and of your own sinful heart. Do not be deceived by false and empty words, which have the appearance of wisdom, but are deadly and damnable lies.

Be on your guard, because it is possible for a disciple of Christ Jesus to stumble and fall, to turn away from Him and leave, to follow Him no longer, even to the point of death. That is what happens when His Word is rejected and refused; when other words and the world's wisdom are heeded instead.

Do not harden your heart in this way. Do not grumble and complain against His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it; even when it is hard to hear and difficult to understand.

To whom shall you go to hear the Word of Life?

To Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of the Father. He is the Holy One, whom to know is wisdom and life everlasting.

As He lives in and with and from the living Father, so has He come down from heaven to you, to give His flesh for you, to shed His blood for you, and to give His flesh and blood to you as Meat and Drink indeed; that you may live and abide in and with Him forever.

You'll not find wisdom or life in your own heart, nor in the world, nor at all apart from the Word of Christ.

But here in the Divine Service, in His Church, is where His Word of Life is heard. And in that Word, the Holy Spirit and the Wisdom of God are given to you. That divine Word forgives you all your sins, for Jesus' sake. It raises you up, daily, as you often as you fall, and restores you to life in Him. It enlightens your heart and mind with His righteousness and peace, with His own perfect faith and holy love.


The Wisdom of God, Christ Jesus, has built His House, the holy Christian Church, on earth. He has hewn out His seven pillars, which are the manifold gifts of His Holy Spirit. He has prepared His food for you by the slaughter of His slaughter, by the sacrifice of His own flesh; and He has mixed His wine with the blood and water from His riven side. He has prepared His Table for you, even in the face of all your enemies, in the midst of sin and death; for He prevails for you as your Good Shepherd.

And He has sent His servants, His messengers, even to the ends of the earth, to cry out in the highways and byways, and to call you into His House and to His Table:

"Come, eat My Flesh, which is true Food; and drink My Blood, which is true Drink."

You do not wish to go away, do you? But, no, rather forsake your folly; be not unwise, but wise, and proceed in this way of understanding. Eat, drink, and live, by the Wisdom of God in Christ.

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

15 August 2009

The Remembrance of His Mercy

Here, then, is how the Lord comes to you and deals with you: in grace, mercy and peace; in humility and meekness. By His Word and Holy Spirit, He greets you and embraces you in love. The Father gives to you His own beloved Son, in flesh and blood like yours, for the forgiveness of all your sins, for the resurrection of your body, and for the life everlasting in both body and soul.

He sends His messenger to you, to go before His face, to prepare His way by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; to point to Him who is the Lamb of God, and even to give you that Lamb in the flesh. He preaches Christ into your ears, into your mouth, into your body.

Believe the Word that He speaks to you, and the promises He gives to you, that all of these things are fulfilled for you in Christ; and they shall be fulfilled and accomplished in you, also, forever and ever.

In St. Elizabeth and St. Mary you are given beautiful examples of such faith in Christ, the Lord. They hear His Word, and they trust it. They rejoice in it gladly, with both humility and confidence, even though it remains hidden under frailty and weakness.

But there is more in these women than example. St. Elizabeth is a new Sarah, who conceives a promised son in her barren old age, as the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Better still, St. Mary is the new and greater Eve, the Mother of all the living, because she conceives and bears the very Son of God in her womb, the Seed of the Woman who crushes Satan under His heel.

St. Mary is a daughter of Eve. So, too, she is a true and twofold daughter of Abraham, for he is the father of all who believe and trust the Lord, as she does. She is also a faithful daughter of Judah and of David; and now, in her, all the promises of God the Lord to those ancient patriarchs have come to pass. For as her father David once brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, where the Lord caused His Name and His Glory to dwell among His people, so now has St. Mary herself become a new and better Ark of the New Covenant in the flesh and blood of her Son. She carries in herself, not signs or types of good things to come, nor simply shadows and promises, but the reality, the true God Himself.

It is in this way — and by the means of this dear woman, who is blessed above all others — that the Lord not only comes to you, to visit you in peace, but He has become like you in every way, save only without sin.

He comes in this way to save you from your sin, to redeem you from death and from the tyranny of the devil, to reconcile you to God and bring you to Him as a dear child to your dear Father in heaven forever. Thus, by His Spirit, you pray: "Abba, Father." Has Jesus not taught you to pray in precisely this way? "Our Father, who art in heaven." With these words, He tenderly invites you to believe that God is your true Father, and you are His true child, so that you may come to Him and pray to Him as a little child asks her dear father on earth.

For this reason, in flesh and blood like yours, conceived and born of St. Mary, the Son of God has taken all your sins upon Himself — and the sins of the whole world — and He has borne those sins in His own body to the Cross. There, by the shedding of His holy, precious blood, He has made propitiation and atoned for all those sins of the world, including yours.

Having thus atoned for sin, His death is surely not defeat but His great victory. Therefore is He raised; and in His Resurrection, those who have been burdened and put to death by sin are also raised to newness of life. For just as He became like you, so do you become like Him, in His Resurrection from the dead, through the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

This forgiveness and new life He grants to you, and to His whole Church on earth, by the Ministry of the Gospel. By the preaching of His messengers, as Gabriel announced the Word of the Lord to St. Mary, and as St. John the Baptist, even while yet in the womb, proclaimed the Lord Jesus Christ. Likewise, by the washing of water with the Word and Spirit of Christ, which is the new birth of Holy Baptism, you are given new life. Indeed, as St. Mary once conceived and gave birth to the Son of God, by His grace, so does the Church give birth to the sons of God in Christ by the same Word and the same Holy Spirit.

And He gives to you, also, the same body and blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ — into your body — which were conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which were crucified under Pontius Pilate, which were dead and buried, but are now risen and ascended, alive forevermore.

As He unites His flesh to yours in this Holy Sacrament, so are you bound up with Him and united with Him, both body and soul, in His Cross and in His Resurrection and His Life everlasting.

This is most certainly true. But, in truth, it is now hidden in the secret place, in the womb of the Church, in the theology of the Cross.

It is only perceived by faith in the Word of Christ, in the midst of hardship and sorrow, gossip and slander, persecution and death. You cling to it in the hope of the Resurrection, which is not yet seen.

St. Elizabeth did not see it. When she greeted her young cousin as the Mother of the Lord, and she praised that same Lord God concealed in the womb of St. Mary, that girl was barely in her first trimester, not even showing. Nor do we have any indication or reason to believe that St. Elizabeth ever saw the Christ Child, as Simeon and Anna would see Him in the Temple. She did not live to see her own son, St. John the Baptist, grow up to fulfill his calling as the Forerunner of the Lord. She and her husband Zacharias were already well advanced in years when St. John was conceived. But had she lived, she would have seen him imprisoned and beheaded by Herod.

St. Mary did live to see her own dear Son, Christ Jesus, crucified under Pontius Pilate. There, at the foot of the Cross, she saw Him suffer and die, and the great sword of sorrow pierced her soul. She was a witness of His Resurrection and of His outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, but so did she also see the Church on earth suffer persecution, as she herself suffered in her life under the Cross. As she was taken into the home of St. John the Apostle, she would have seen the martyrdom of his elder brother, St. James, who was put to death by Herod.

Already long before, St. Mary had suffered for her faith and for the very reason of her great blessedness. When she returned from visiting St. Elizabeth, she was at first suspected by St. Joseph, who would have divorced her quietly for her presumed unfaithfulness; and though he took her to be his wife, by faith in the Word of the Lord, one can well imagine what the rest of Nazareth would have thought and said concerning her and her condition. She had to flee the murderous threats and violence of Herod, who would have destroyed her Son from the start; she had to live in a foreign land, a stranger and alien on earth, though she was highly favored by God and blessed among women.

The great reversal of which St. Mary sings — the humbling of the proud and the exaltation of the poor and lowly and despised — is accomplished by God through the Cross and Passion of His Son and hers. It is fully realized only in the Resurrection of the dead, which you do not yet see. For now, what you see and experience is persecution, suffering and death.

Now you live under the Cross: that is, the very Cross of Christ, which saves you. Therefore, live in the hope of His Resurrection, in the faith and confidence of His mercy. That hope will not disappoint you; nor will His mercy ever fail you.

Even now, there is the remembrance of His mercy. Not simply your remembering of His mercy in the past and of what He has said and promised, but His remembrance of you, and of His promises to you, and His remembrance of His holy Covenant in the flesh and blood of Christ.

Here, indeed, is where and how He remembers you in mercy: Here is the Body of Christ, born of St. Mary, given to you. Here is the Blood of Christ, shed for you upon the Cross, now poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Where there is this forgiveness, there is life and salvation. Therefore, you also shall be saved and raised from death to the life everlasting in both body and soul.

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

09 August 2009

Eating and Drinking under the Tree

"I Am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will not thirst."

That is the Word and promise of Christ, the Son of God, your Savior.

You have come to Him, because the Father has called you and given you to Christ, His Son. And you believe in Him, because the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, and He has enlightened you with His gifts, who also sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith.

You shall by no means be cast out. You shall not hunger or thirst, nor lack any good thing. You shall not perish, but live. For Christ the Lord, to whom the Father has given you, shall raise you up on the last day.

But now, from the waters of your Baptism, you have come to Him in the wilderness. And here, it seems, there is rather a lot of hunger and thirst. Indeed, you are hungry and thirsty, not only in your body, but in your heart and mind.

You suffer because of your faithfulness; because of the Name that you bear; because you are a Christian. And yet, you also find in yourself that you are not so faithful. Instead of steadfast faith and confident trust in the Lord who loves you, you harbor doubts and fears, frustrations and discouragements; perhaps even threats of dark despair. And against those who have hurt you or failed you, you harbor anger and resentment and bitterness. Instead of speaking with grace, you grumble and complain and utter harsh and spiteful words. You harden your heart against your neighbor, whom you ought to love and forgive; and so you harden your heart against the Lord your God, the very Father of mercies and God of all comforts.

Thus, you do not yet see, neither in yourself nor in your life nor in the world around you, what your eyes long to see; and it is so hard to wait upon the Lord. Your belly may be momentarily filled and satisfied, but it won't be long before it growls and rumbles again. And even when your body is full, your heart and mind still hunger for peace and rest.

Why not give up and die? That is the question of your old Adam, when he is not striving to make a god out of himself. From towering pride to the pits of despair in a heartbeat. What is the use, after all? What is the point?

Your fathers ate their daily bread; whether they prayed or not, whether they were evil or good, God the Father almighty opened His hand to feed them, to shower them with sunshine and rain, to give them everything they needed for this body and life. Yes, your fathers ate their daily bread — and they died!

How, then, shall you survive and live? Eat, drink, and be merry, and tomorrow you still die. Or stop eating altogether and starve yourself to death. What difference does it make? Whether you live twenty years or seventy, forty-five or ninety, what does it matter? No amount of daily food and drink will spare your life forever.

But now, take your rest under the tree. That is where you live, and die, and rise again. It shelters you and shades you, in any case; even when you are ready to give up and die in disgust.

Consider that your Lord Jesus has suffered and died for you: in tender-hearted kindness, in mercy and compassion, with great love for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

His Cross and Passion, His suffering and death were not meaningless or pointless, nor without hope. These were, instead, a sweet-smelling sacrifice and offering, by which you are beloved and well-pleasing to God your Father. You know that is true, because God has raised this same Jesus from the dead — never to die again. This same Jesus, the Lamb of God, who came down from heaven and became flesh, who took your sins upon Himself and died in your place, has risen from the dead. Therefore, you also shall rise and live with Him.

So also, in your suffering, you are not cast aside; you are not abandoned, nor forgotten. What you may suffer as a consequence of your sins is a discipline for your good, unto repentance and new life in the free and full forgiveness of all your sins. And what you suffer in faith and love, as a Christian, is for the glory of God and the good of your neighbor.

But you do not suffer for yourself, nor by yourself, and you do not die alone. In Christ, you shall not die, but live forever.

He who for your sake died and was raised, strengthens and sustains you here under this Tree of His Cross; even here in the wilderness of this world, in the valley of the shadow of death.

He loves you. He is kind and merciful. He does forgive you all your sins.

The Father has given Him from heaven for you, in the flesh, to save you. To give you life. For that is His good and gracious divine will! This is the very thing God most desires; and He does it.

He stretches out His hand to you in Christ, in order to lay hold of you in love; to raise you up, to strengthen you in both body and soul, for this life and the life everlasting.

And see here, Christ Jesus feeds you with His own flesh and blood; which He has given, and He gives, for the life of the world.

Arise, and eat, drink, here under this Tree of Christ. The journey is too much for you to travel on your own, but with this Food He travels with you all the way. He strengthens and sustains you in the true faith. He will not let go of you, but shall raise you up at the last.

So does He now grant you to depart in peace and joy; and even so shall you live.

Arise, and eat, therefore. On the strength and vitality of this Food, the Bread of Life, you come to the Mountain of God, now and forever.

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

07 August 2009

Sometimes You Have No Idea

I recently recommended Pastor Peperkorn's little book, I Trust When Dark My Road: A Lutheran View of Depression, and I reiterate that recommendation now; not only for my brother pastors, but for anyone who struggles with melancholy or suffers from depression, and also for those with family and friends who struggle and suffer in such ways. Along with that, I offer the observation that sometimes you have no idea that someone you know and love is groping along in that darkness of depression; which suggests the need for care and concern in every case.

Reading Pastor Peperkorn's book has been deeply moving to me, but it was a rather difficult thing for me to do. I put it off for awhile, not simply because I've been so busy (which is true), but because I knew it would be a hard read. It is a humbling thing for a friend to bare his soul in such a courageous way, and it scared me more than a little to get too close to that profoundly personal revelation. I'm very glad to have read what he wrote, especially because he has used his experience as an opportunity to confess the Gospel and to serve the faith of others. I am comforted and strengthened by his words, and better equipped to care for others in turn.

I've known Pastor Peperkorn for many years now, and I count him among my dearest friends and colleagues. Our years at the seminary overlapped, and I was very glad for the privilege of participating in the laying on of hands at his ordination. Although our paths do not cross in person as often as I would like, we have communicated regularly over the past decade and a half. In particular, our lives intersected and we worked together on various different projects from 2004 through 2006. In fact, I was probably closer to Pastor Peperkorn during those two years than I have been at any other point in our friendship. There was the 2004 Convention, and already the preparations leading up to it that spring. The following year was the "Dare to Be Lutheran" Higher Things conference in St. Louis, and then the synodical worship conference in Kenosha that same summer. On the heals of that, as I was preparing to serve as the chaplain at "The Feast" the next year, Pastor Peperkorn was one of the key people I consulted; I regularly sought his advice and learned from his past experience. I spent a couple days in his home in February 2006, when I spoke at a pre-Lenten retreat that he and Pastor Berg hosted.

I was reminded of these things as I was reading Pastor Peperkorn's book, because those events and that time period coincided with the ever-increasing grip of depression that had settled upon my dear friend and colleague. I was somewhat aware of the stress that he was under, the anxiety that he felt, and some of the sorrows that he had suffered, and yet, I really had no idea of the darkness that was creeping over him. It has sobered me and stopped me in my tracks to realize that now. I'm not beating myself up for not realizing what was going on. Many others were unaware, too, and even Pastor Peperkorn himself did not recognize what he was suffering until the tail end of that time. But that is precisely my point: sometimes you have no idea what is going on with your neighbor. No, let me rephrase that, because my point is not to lecture anyone else, but to admonish myself. Sometimes I have no idea what is going on with my neighbor. Which means that I ought to be erring on the side of care and concern for my neighbor, and not allowing myself ever to be careless or cavalier in my conduct or conversation.

It may not be given me to know my neighbor's heartaches and burdens, and it may not be given me to address those concerns. Sometimes, yes, but not always. Nevertheless, I am given to love my neighbor at all times; and love does no harm to the neighbor. It is true that I do cause hurt to my neighbor, usually without intention, and sometimes in ignorance, but also because of my sin; I do and say things that I shouldn't. With Luther, I am grateful for the recourse of the Fifth Petition, and for the neverending grace and forgiveness of God in Christ. But forgiveness is no excuse for carelesssness. Whether I know my neighbor's pain or not, I should not add to it by speaking with anything less than gentleness and kindness.

About the same time that I was reading Pastor Peperkorn's book and realizing these things, it happened that my own Mom was undergoing surgery. I hadn't known until a couple weeks ahead of time that it was going to be more than just a simple outpatient procedure. She would be in the hospital the better part of a week — the same week that I would be at the Higher Things conference in Grand Rapids; in fact, her surgery in Illinois coincided with the first day of the conference. I was feeling very anxious for her, and frustrated with myself for not being able to be there with her and my Dad. It weighed upon my heart and mind throughout that day and most of the next; and it really wasn't until the next day after that, when I was finally able to talk to my Mom by phone, that I was set at ease by how things had gone and where they stood.

In my usual fashion, I didn't really talk to anyone about how I was feeling. On the one hand, I didn't want to rain on everyone's excitement with the conference, but on the other hand, truth be told, I preferred to retreat into my cave and largely withdrew into myself. I retreated into the dark and left everyone else in the dark as to why. In retrospect, it's easy to see that wasn't the right approach, but that is not the point at hand.

Of course I ran into lots of friends and colleagues at the Higher Things conference, and many of them greeted me jovially, really with the lighthearted teasing of friendship and affection. But their well-intentioned comments felt to me like barbs and left me cold and sour inside. Clearly, none of them meant any harm; I know that, and I don't hold anything against them. None of them could have known anything about my Mom, and I certainly didn't communicate anything about it. Instead, I turned away from my friends, retreated further into myself, and no doubt left everyone wondering what my problem was. So I offer no criticism of anyone else for any of this, but there is a lesson here for me again.

Sometimes I have no idea what my neighbor is feeling or going through. And sometimes my neighbor happens to be someone like myself, who doesn't communicate what's troubling him. The point is that I ought to speak to my neighbor with tenderness and care, even if I have no idea of what is going on with him; perhaps all the more so if I have no idea.

Looking back, I don't recall that I said anything careless or cavalier to my dear friend Pastor Peperkorn when he was going through such a personal hell. I hope that I did not. Perhaps I was aware enough of his stress and fatigue to be more considerate than I might otherwise have been. Even so, in the case of a good friend with whom I was working closely, I had no idea the extent of his burdens, hurts and fears. So how many other people do I talk to and communicate with on a regular basis, whom I know far less? Should I be excused from being considerate of them because of my ignorance?

I'm not suggesting that there is never a time for jovial banter and affectionate teasing between friends. That would be a shame. Sometimes such lighthearted fun is helpful to the burdened heart, especially when it is offered in compassion by one who is sharing those burdens in love. That grows out of genuine conversation, out of sympathetic knowledge rather than ignorance. But apart from that, and prior to that, how should I best greet and approach my neighbor? It seems to me that, until I know otherwise, I might do well to speak and act with the same sort of kindness and gentleness and careful consideration that would accompany my conversation and conduct with someone who is mourning the death of a parent, a spouse, or a child. It seems to me that, as a pastor, I ought to approach every conversation with the possibility in mind that the person I am speaking to may be struggling with depression or even on the brink of despair. Not for the sake of being pessimistic, but for the sake of being kind. In any case, God forbid that I should increase the burdens of my brothers in Christ, even if I have no idea what those burdens may be.

04 August 2009

Savoring Sweet Sadness of the Salutary Sort

There is a sadness that proceeds, not from fear, but in love. Because we are created to live in relationships of love with God and with each other, and yet we are finite creatures living in a fallen world; hence, there are sorrowful leavetakings and varying degrees of separation. If every sleep anticipates the death of our bodies from this world, and every surgery is also a kind of little death, so is every goodbye a miniature mourning of departed friends. Our Lord Himself did not disdain this sort of grief, but was deeply moved in His own spirit by it, and He compassionately recognized and acknowledged the same sorrow in His friends. As His disciples, we do not mourn without hope, but still there is a time for mourning, for sorrow, and for saying goodbye.

We ought not to hide from this salutary sadness, nor try to protect ourselves from it. Attempting to deny the sorrow of separation is only another form of self-righteousness. Parents who try to make sure their children are always only happy, who give them whatever they want and shelter them from every sadness in the world, set them up for a life of selfishness, hypocrisy, frustration and disappointment. Our hope and confidence, and the blessed peace and joy of Christ, do not derive from a denial of sin and its consequences, but from the Lord's forgiveness of our sin by His Cross, from His defeat of our death by His own bloody passion unto death, and from the glorious victory of His Resurrection from the dead. He passes through suffering out of death into life, and we along with Him. "In a little while, you will not see Me," He says, "and then in a little while you will see Me again." And when the Bridegroom is departed, that is the appropriate time to fast and mourn: even then in the hope of the resurrection and the life everlasting.

There are separations that are good and right, even though they may also be difficult and painful. We can truly and sincerely rejoice in such good events as having our children graduate and go off to college, or get married and move away from home, but it would be very odd indeed to feel no sadness along with the joy. Mixed emotions often mark our temporal life on earth under the Cross. It is true that our feelings are fickle, because they also are fallen along with our wills, our minds and bodies. And, to be sure, feelings are neither the foundation nor the goal of faith. Yet, for all of that, feelings are also part of who we are as creatures of God. They should neither be idolized nor despised, but allowed to be what they are under the grace of God, both disciplined and sanctified by the prayer and confession of His Word.

It would be callous and inhuman for a husband or wife to have no feelings for his or her spouse; likewise for a parent to have no feelings for his or her children. We do not easily let any of them go; nor should we. Even Yahweh is a jealous God; He is zealous for His Bride and for His children; He longs for them with a heart of love, and He will not tolerate their affections being taken from Him and given to another god. God binds us to Himself permanently, even unto life everlasting. For us, though, in our temporal earthly life, our spouses are united to us only until death parts us; and as for our children, they grow up to leave their fathers and mothers and to be married or given in marriage. Therefore, the strong natural affections that bind us to these others whom God has given us to love are strained and stretched and saddened. For covetous idolatry, we are called to repent, but for the sadness that proceeds in love we should have no shame or regret.

I have spent much of my life having to say goodbye to people I have cared about. It is always a difficult thing, but it is far worse to avoid the opportunity. Refusing to acknowledge the difficulty of separation is a denial of our created nature, or else a denial of our sin, or else a denial of our love. Surely none of these things are intended, but they run contrary to the Word of God. Besides, even if brave stoicism may be helpful to an individual's self-preservation, how shall this love and serve and help the neighbor? The ritual of saying goodbye is often emotional, and some people frown on such things, but to make a crime out of such emotions is no better, and really no different, than to make a god out of them. As Christians, we certainly ought to understand the significance of rites and ceremonies, the power of simple words and traditional gestures to grant a salutary benefit in the midst of mortal life. When we use those rites and ceremonies to savor the sweet sadness that proceeds in love, we resist and ward off the sadness that arises out of fear and threatens to overwhelm us with the grief and mourning of those who have no hope.

If we fear the grave as little as our bed, because we know that Christ is risen indeed, then we shall not fear nor flee the sorrow of separation, either, but rejoice in the communion of saints and the great cloud of witnesses with which we are ever surrounded: from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.