29 September 2009

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Woe to you who live on earth, in the midst of sin and death and the devil’s great wrath. Be on your guard, vigilant, sober and watchful.
Satan is a fierce foe, and he hates you with a vengeance. He does not rest in his attacks against you, but day and night he is plotting to entice and deceive you, and at the same time accuses you of your sin. He mocks you with guilt and shame, whether real or imagined; and he threatens you with death and damnation, even with the condemnation of God’s Law.
Pray, therefore, at all times and without ceasing. Do not rely upon your own wisdom, reason or strength, but humble yourself before God; repent of your sins, and seek the Lord by His grace and mercy.
Even now, take courage and stand upright.
For here there is One who helps you, who is mightier than sin, death, the devil and hell.
Here there is Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts, who has become true Man, conceived and born of Mary, your brother in the flesh. He is your Savior.
This Lord, Jesus Christ, has conquered in the fight; not by the raw power of His Law, which would also destroy you along with your enemies, but by the Holy Spirit of God, by perfect faith and love, by His own Cross and Resurrection.
He has robbed the devil of his threatening might and fearsome power. He has stripped the devil of his teeth, and removed all the bars and doors of his prison house.
Because the Cross of Christ has satisfied the Law and completely fulfilled it, meeting all its demands and removing all its threats. The Lord, Himself, has made propitiation and atonement for all sins, including yours; He has reconciled you and all the world to God the Father.
With what, then, shall Satan accuse or condemn you? And what threat or fear of death shall the devil hold over your head, since Christ Jesus has trodden death and hell under foot, and has opened the grave and opened heaven in His Resurrection.
He has accomplished this victory for all men and women, all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. And He has rescued you, in this same victory, by and with His Spirit, as He has given you His Name and Himself with His whole life and salvation, in Holy Baptism and through the whole Ministry of the Gospel.
Even more relentless than Satan accuses, the Lord Jesus never ceases to speak forgiveness and peace. So long as the heavens and the earth remain, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down, He preaches His Gospel and removes the sins of the world — and Satan is cast out and thrown down.
It is for this purpose that the Lord has so ordained and constituted the ministry of men and angels, unto the life and salvation of all who are called by His Name.
Thus are you, dear child of God, dear "little one" of Jesus, guarded and guided by the Word of the Lord.
His Word is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path, so that you know the way of faith and love, by which you live.
The Law curbs you from wickedness, to spare you the devil’s fiercest wrath and treachery; and even in exposing your sin and calling you to account, it is directing you to the Cross of Christ, and to His sweeter Word of the Gospel.
As often as you stumble and fall, that Gospel lays the gentle hand of Christ upon you and raises you up in His Resurrection by forgiving you all of your sins.
As surely as you are baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ, so does He nurture and preserve your faith and life in Him, by nourishing you in the wilderness with the spiritual Food and Drink of His own Body and Blood.
That is the authority with which He has called and sent your pastors, to preach repentance to you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, in His Name.
By that Word of the Gospel, just as surely as He has named you with His Name in Holy Baptism, so has He written your name with His own in the Book of Life. For with His Baptism and His forgiveness, His Resurrection is also your resurrection from the dead, and He Himself is your life and your salvation.
That is why His holy angels surround you, to guard you and protect you, in both body and soul, unto life everlasting. For they see in you — what you often fail to see in yourself and in your neighbor — they behold Jesus Christ, His Name, His flesh and blood, the members of His own Body and Bride. And so they serve you.
The angels are not given the highest honor of preaching the Gospel to you; for that is done by men of flesh and blood, like that of Christ Himself, who is not an angel but is both God and man. But the angels do guard and protect you for the sake of the Gospel.
The angels preserve your life, in order that you may hear and confess the Holy Gospel, so that both you and your neighbor may live, in both body and soul, both now and forever.
Of course the devil doesn’t fight fair. He is a liar and a murderer. And he is crafty, with a serpent’s body that slithers this way and that and strikes in the blink of an eye. By hook and by crook he attacks on the left and on the right. He lures you into sin, and then he quickly points the finger at you and vehemently accuses you. He assaults your heart and mind with distractions and enticements; with fears and trepidations; with pride at one moment, despair at the next; with envy and jealousy; with guilt and shame.
And when he cannot shake your hope and confidence within, the devil levels all his wrath and hatred against your frail flesh, your household and family and friends.
With lying and murdering, day and night, the devil lets you have no peace within or without.
But do not be afraid.
The armies of the Lord who loves you surround you. And because they always behold the face of your Father in heaven, they are more fierce and determined in their protection than even Satan in his wrath.
Nothing will injure you. That is the Lord’s promise.
But how so? Given that you bear the Cross, how shall you not be injured, even to the point of death? For you are frail flesh and blood. You are but mortal. You get sick, you suffer and die. You get hurt.
And you are a poor, miserable sinner. You surely deserve nothing but punishment. Does the devil not have a point in accusing and condemning you?
But, no, you are in Christ, and He in you, and there is no condemnation that shall stand against you. There is no punishment or death that shall injure you.
The One with all authority in heaven and on earth, who could destroy your soul and body in hell, has named you with the Name of Christ, the beloved Son, and He has declared you to be well-pleasing in His sight. He judges you righteous, and He gives to you all good things.
If you are crucified and put to death by the Cross, it is the same Cross that forgives you, daily, all your sins. It is the Cross from which you are fed by God with the Body and Blood of Christ. It is the Cross by which you are brought through death into life with God in the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ Jesus.
It is the Cross by which that old serpent, the devil, is conquered and crushed under the heal of Christ, the Son of Man, your Savior.
If you and your body and life are marked by the Sign of that Cross, so do you also bear the Name of Christ, and His Spirit, and His Body and His Blood. By these means you overcome.
The same Lord sees to it that none of these treasures of His Kingdom shall be taken from you; nor shall you be snatched out of His hand.
The same Lord sends men to preach and administer His Gospel to you, and holy angels to guard you round about.
Rejoice, therefore, and bless the Lord. All that is within you, give thanks and bless His holy Name. For as He feeds you here and now, with His own Body, so shall He awaken your body from the dust of the earth and raise you unto everlasting life in the never-ending Feast of His Kingdom. And as you worship Him and sing with saints and angels here at His Altar on earth, so shall you worship and sing with all the company of the blessed in heaven forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

26 September 2009

Salted by the Cross and at Peace in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus

In what does your life consist? What does it mean for you to live?
Not by your own works, nor in the wealth and wisdom of the world, but it is by the Name of the Lord that you live, as His child, by His grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
The Name of Christ has been granted to you in your Holy Baptism. That is your strength and your salvation. For you are thus anointed by the Holy Spirit for faith and life with God, who is now your own dear Father in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.
So what does this mean for you?
You are salted by the Holy Spirit through the Word; which is to say that you are disciplined unto daily repentance by the Cross, which crucifies you to the world and to your sin.
But so are you "seasoned" (inside and out) with peace and love, and you are granted new life, through the forgiveness of all your sins in the Resurrection of Christ.
So, then, how do you deal with yourself?

And how shall you deal with your neighbor?
There is a sound of violence in the Word of Jesus today. It is a violence, not against your body per se, far less against your neighbor at all, but a violence against the sinfulness of your heart.
For your hope and your help, and your life, are in the Name of the Lord. His Name saves you, gives you divine life, and bears fruit in you, in your flesh, finally forever in the Resurrection. But the sin in your heart brings forth death in your body and actions, and leads to eternal damnation.
Both sinful unbelief and repentant faith are matters of the heart, which are embodied and bear fruit in your flesh, in your bodily life and actions. And those actions of your body, in turn, substantiate and strengthen the attitudes of your heart, whether for good or ill, for life or death.
Therefore, deny your body the sinful desires of lust and greed, and live in the faith and hope of the Resurrection of the body.
Live in and with your body, now, in view of the fact that your body shall be raised to live with God in His Kingdom forever. For your body also bears the Name of Christ Jesus.
Live in such a way that your body confesses His Name.
If your hand or foot or your eye is involved in sin, repent in your heart and therefore repent in your behavior, as well. Discipline your flesh to do good and not evil. Avert your eyes, divert your feet, and withhold your hand from wickedness.
To live in sin is already a kind of living death.
But to live by faith is to rely on the Name of Christ, unto the life everlasting. To live by faith in His Name is to pray, by and with His Word and Holy Spirit. And to live by faith in His Name is to avail yourself of His Ministry of the Gospel: to seek it out, to ask for it, and to support it.
In turn, to live by faith is also to live in love, catechizing and caring for others in the Name of Christ. It is to speak to and care for others as Christ Jesus does for you.
Would that all Christians would thus faithfully profess the Word of the Gospel they have heard!
By your words and actions, deal with your neighbor in patience and peace, with long-suffering kindness, in mercy and forgiveness. Be slow to anger, reluctant to hurt, eager to heal and quick to forgive, as you are forgiven in the Name of Christ Jesus. Restore your erring brother or sister in a spirit of gentleness, for love’s sake, in the humility of repentance.
In short, discipline yourself, not only to avoid what is evil, but also to do and to say what is good and right: whether you feel like it or not, but especially when you don't, for that is when the discipline is most needed.
In all of this, as you recognize your own sin and stumbling (as you certainly will discover, when you examine yourself honestly, as you should), do not despair — and do not continue in your sin, either — but call upon the Name of the Lord, and rely on Christ Jesus.
He cares for you and provides for you. He forgives you all your sins, for His own Name’s sake. And He shall raise you up, body and soul, to newness of life each day (in His own righteousness and holiness), and to the life everlasting in heaven.
For He has borne all your burdens in His own body on the cross; indeed, He alone has carried the whole burden of His people. He has brought them all, including you, out of slavery to sin, through the wilderness of death, into the promised Kingdom of His God and Father.
And see here how He feeds you on the way, and how He feeds the vast multitude of His Church, with Meat and Drink indeed: His Cup, with more than water, with His holy precious Blood; and His own Body, the life-giving Manna of God, which refreshes and restores your soul and renews your body for the resurrection and eternal life with God.
Even in the midst of death, here is real life and real living.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Three Rules of Thumb and One Axiom

For people with three thumbs and a trunk to keep the axiom in:

People who point fingers and call names should not complain about finger-pointing and name-calling; unless they are being ironic for rhetorical effect, which may or may not work.

People who comment on blogs should not criticize other people for blogging; although it always strikes me as humorous, and I appreciate the smile it gives me (even if it may look like a smirk).

People who excel at snarkiness should not take offense when others are snarky. (I should say, however, that I really like this word, "snarky," which I heard for the first time earlier this year, and which I have since been enjoying in a wide variety of contexts.)

Better to shine a light than cursing the darkness. Kudos to Dr. Kleinig for that most excellent wisdom. Now if I could only master doing it.

22 September 2009

The Younger Women as Sisters

It was part of today's New Testament Reading (1 Timothy 5), but I've already been thinking about it for the past month or two. St. Paul instructs St. Timothy to encourage the older men as he would a father, the older women as he would a mother, the younger men as brothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity. Aside from being the inspired Word of God, even humanly speaking that admonishment has resonated with me and made perfect sense to me. It has been helpful to me, precisely in the way that St. Paul intended, I believe. It fits with the way the pastoral office coincides with a father's vocation as the head of his household (1 Timothy 3).

Well, nothing has changed in St. Paul's instruction and admonition, nor in its intention. But I have noticed, recently, that something has changed in me and in my relation to the world. I have noticed that change, in particular, in the way that I perceive and relate to the younger women under my pastoral care. Trying to care for them "as sisters" doesn't compute in the way that it used to. My sisters are all grown up and married, and one of them has five children of her own. Not surprisingly, then, the women who seem more like sisters to me, now, are those of my own generation, more or less.

The younger women seem like daughters to me now. I don't really even have to think about it, per se; it's instinctual and automatic. The younger men are more like sons to me, too, but I have noticed this new development more in the case of the girls. I suppose it goes along with that Daddy-daughter bond that I have certainly experienced in the case of my own natural daughters. There is already a paternal character to the pastoral office, in any case, but what I am attempting to describe is more a consequence of a new stage in my own lifespan. Much nicer than a midlife crisis, surely, but akin to that kind of threshold or transition.

A number of things have happened over the past year or so that readily explain the shift in my perception of young people, both girls and boys. Having DoRena and Zachary each get married in the summer of 2008 was a remarkable milestone in our life as a family. Not only are my two older children, well, older, but they have families and households of their own. I've tended to situate and categorize various things in my life in relation to my children and their developmental stages. Now, then, it's almost impossible for me to think of young men and women without mentally identifying them in some way or another with my older children; especially because their spouses have become my children, too. Anyone who doubts the place that Sam and Rebekah now hold within my heart and in my family, simply doesn't know me at all.

As profound a milestone as last year's weddings were, there was another event within this past year that has triggered an even more noticeable change in me and in my relation to the world around me; more so than I ever could have guessed or imagined. My father-in-law had told me, when LaRena and I were awaiting the arrival of our Katharina, that I had no idea what it was like to have a daughter going through labor and giving birth. But I didn't have long to wait. I'll never forget the 1st of March, 2009, when my own dear daughter delivered my first grandchild. Going to visit them the next day will always be one of the most remarkable and treasured memories of my life.

I've said to any number of people that my Sarena had me from "hello," and she didn't even say "hello." Just the sight of her, and holding her, and being there with her in person, was more than enough to flip some kind of switch inside of me. She was the newborn, but there was something brand new about me, too, something I had never been before. It had a lot to do with becoming a Grandpa, absolutely, but it also had to do with that very thing my father-in-law had been talking about. There was something different about me, because there was something different about my daughter. I had already given her away to Sam, and that was a significant transition that created a new sort of distance between me and DoRena; not in a bad way, not at all, but a certain kind of distance nonetheless. When she became the mother of my granddaughter, it was like the sewing up of a new bond between us, a new and even tighter relationship than we had ever had before. I still feel that whenever I see her or talk to her. She's still my daughter, but ever so much more so. There are ways in which the Daddy-daughter bond has grown and expanded; and I suppose one could say that Sarena is the superglue between us.

Anyway, I think it is especially this change that has occurred in me, in relation to my daughter, that has most decisively shifted the way that I instantly perceive and relate to younger women. It has taken me half a year to identify the shift, but it has finally clicked for me in the past few weeks. Perhaps there is nothing more nor less to think or say about it than that; and maybe it isn't terribly profound, except that it echoes a profound change in me that I am still marveling at. It confirms what I have maintained for many years: Our proper vocations and stations in life are not simply a collection of the stuff we happen to do, but they comprise and constitute who we are, and therefore shape the way we relate to everyone and everything else. I don't stop being a pastor, a husband and a father, even when I am dealing with people outside of my congregation and outside of my own family. Likewise, now that my older children are married, and now that my own daughter is a mother, and I am a grandfather, those new relationships also affect all of my other relationships and dealings. St. Paul's admonition and instruction still stands, but the younger women are far less like sisters than daughters to me now; and I encourage them as such, all the more so, in purity.

20 September 2009

The Greatness of Christ

The disciples are badly mistaken in their reaction to the Lord’s foretelling of His Passion — arguing among themselves, as to which one of them is the greatest. Tacky doesn’t even cover it.

They do not understand what real greatness is, because they do not understand Christ or His Cross. And they are afraid to ask; because, actually, they don’t want to know or understand!

If the Cross awaits Him, it awaits His disciples, too, and that is the opposite of what they want.

It is the same for you, by sinful nature. You don’t and cannot understand the Cross and Passion of Christ. And you are afraid to ask, because you don’t want to know. More than that, and more to the point, you don’t want to be crucified and die.

You want to live; and you want to be great, to be well-liked, admired, respected, even popular. And you want to do it your way, on your own terms, by your own efforts and accomplishments. Not only as a matter of personal pride, but because you don’t trust God. You don’t trust anyone else, either. Instead, you strive to protect yourself, and you compete with everyone else, to get ahead at whatever cost, by whatever means you can get away with.

So, on the one hand, you are consumed by your pride and self-righteousness, relying on yourself. And on the other hand, you’re driven by your lust and envy, covetous idolatry and selfishness.

Your heart burns with jealousy and resentment. You get angry, and you become bitter. You harbor grudges and assume the worst about your neighbor. Outwardly, you mutter and complain and gossip against others. You quarrel and fight, and in various ways you murder your neighbor.

In all of this, there is the worldly appearance of strength, and the promising smell of success.

But it is a false and misleading dream. It is no true wisdom or righteousness; it is not divine and heavenly, but demonic and deadly. It does not make you great, but destroys you.

Don’t you know that friendship with the world, and competing and contesting on its terms, puts you at odds and at enmity with God? The way it went with Cain and Abel!

But humble yourself under the mighty hand of God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Turn away from temptation, from your sin and every evil. Repent, and trust the Lord. Submit yourself to Him, to His Word, in faith.

He will exalt you in His mercy, which is His greatness in Christ Jesus.

You not only see it in Christ, as an example, but He has accomplished it for you, and He has made it possible for you.

He humbles Himself, and becomes obedient unto death. He makes Himself nothing, small and weak, like a little child. In faith toward God, He makes Himself the Servant of all. His divine Wisdom is exercised in mercy and kindness: toward those who are not merciful or kind to Him!

By His righteousness, He justifies you, and He grants you peace through the forgiveness of sins.

This is the Glory and Strength of God, and this is real greatness — by the Way of the Cross.

Instead of supposing and striving to take care of yourself, to make a way for yourself, to protect yourself, and to take what you want for yourself, in competition with and at the expense of others — rather, commit your way to the Lord; entrust yourself to Him, in both life and death, and wait quietly and patiently for Him to deliver you and give you all good things. He will.

Even if you are persecuted and put to death, do not despair, and do not give up hope, and do not take matters into your own hands. Do not fret yourself, but know that the Lord, He is God, and He will vindicate you and exalt you.

You know that He will do it, because He has already done so in the Resurrection of your Lord Jesus Christ. To be His disciple is to be crucified and die with Him, yes, but it is also to be raised with Him, to live with Him.

For God has received you as His own dear child in Christ. The Father has taken you into the embrace of His beloved Son, into the arms of Him who was crucified for you. And already in this, the one true God has given you Himself, so that you truly lack nothing in heaven or on earth.

There may appear to be little or no safety in those crucified arms of Christ. For He Himself, with all His gentle meekness, was like a Lamb led to the slaughter.

"Let us destroy the tree with its fruit," they plotted and conspired against Him, "to cut off His life from the land of the living, that there be no remembrance of Him."

How easy to conclude that God abandoned Him; that no good could ever come of such a Cross.

But, no, in fact the Cross of Christ is the Victory of God, His greatness and His glory. There the Lord reconciled the world to Himself, and established Peace for you with God (and one another).

The tree of the Cross thus bears the fruits of life, which remain; and by the eating and drinking of that fruit from that tree, by the crucified body and shed blood of Christ, the Name of the Lord is remembered and hallowed; not only in itself, as it surely is, but in every generation, and also among us. And so also for you, who bear His Name in His Peace.

Here, then, take delight in the Lord, and He shall give you your heart’s desire.

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

15 September 2009

I Wonder

It appears to be the case that
those who already seem to have everything
are still jealous of those who have anything.

But then there is the One by whom all things were made,
without whom nothing is,
who emptied Himself and made Himself nothing,
so that we who have nothing might have it all.

Oh, to have the same mind as that of Christ Jesus!

14 September 2009

The Feast of Holy Cross Day

The journey is long, and the way is hard, because it is the way of the Cross. And the provisions of the Lord are boring and bitter to your taste; they seem so meager, and you are so beleaguered.
There are times when you would rather die than carry on like this; although dying is the very thing you fear and dread the most, which you are most desperate to avoid. So then, you are anxious and restless and afraid, and you grumble and complain, and you blame God for your troubles while despairing of His help.
But why would you prefer to die without Him, instead of living with Him by His grace?
And why are you so sure that He is out to kill you, when His whole desire is to give you life?
Look. Here stands the font before your eyes, the Red Sea by which the Lord your God has brought you out of slavery into freedom, out of death into life, from sin into righteousness, from unbelief to the worship of God in Spirit and in Truth.
The Altar, too, proclaims the sacrifice of God the Lord for you; that He is the Passover Lamb, given for you upon the Cross, now given and poured out for you in this Feast.
To crave another food and drink than this, is to worship another god: a false god who will not save you. It is to long for the flesh of Egypt instead of looking forward to the milk and honey of the Promised Land.
But why would you do that? Why would you trade your divine inheritance for a mess of pottage?
It is idolatry: pride and despair all rolled together into one. It is selfishness and greed, and lust and envy. It is covetous desire for that which is not god and does not last. It is the foolishness by which you think yourself wise, and the weakness by which you think yourself strong.
And you do not even know how wrong and lost you are, because you do not see Jesus.
Or, rather, you refuse to recognize your King, your Savior and your God, in Christ Jesus, the Crucified One. Because you do not like what you see.
Endless miles of desert wilderness stretched out in front of you, with bread and water to sustain you. Enemies to confront or avoid, but nary a friend in sight. And the only trees on the horizon are gallows poles and crosses. It is a death march through death valley.
And this is freedom? This is life?
Because of Christ, it is; else there would be no hope, nor any help for you anywhere.
The journey is long, and the way is hard, because it is the way of the Cross. And the Lord’s provisions are the fruits of that same tree: the water that flows from the riven side of Christ; the Bread of Life, His flesh. Royal food and drink indeed!
But why must it be so hard, and how can such a Cross, and suffering and death, be of any help?
Know this: It is not the Lord who has chosen death, but He is the One who has dealt with it. He has not skirted that last great enemy, but He has mercifully chosen to meet it head-on. He has confronted bitter death and defeated it. He has gotten for Himself the victory; not as though He were in danger or needed to save Himself, but because it is the Glory of God to save sinners by His grace and to give life to His own creation.
This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous; even as it is mysterious.
He has become the very thing that hunts you and haunts you and puts you to death. He has become the fiery serpent that bites you and kills you, and then by His own death He has crushed the serpent’s head under His heel. He has become sin’s undoing, by taking sin upon Himself and into His own flesh, and suffering its deadly sting, its curse and awful consequence, and thereby reconciling sinners to God the Father by His own righteousness and faithful obedience, even unto death upon the Cross.
He has emptied death of its terrible power by dying in the foolish weakness of faith. For in thus clinging to the one true God, who loves sinners, He treads under foot all the false gods of sinful men. And in this, the Father glorifies Himself in His beloved Son, for the salvation of all men. That is why the One who dies, not only rises, but bears much fruit — also in you — the Tree of the Cross bearing fruit after its own kind.
It is by the Cross that He calls you and draws you to Himself, to the Father in the Son by the Holy Spirit; because He would have you truly live by faith in Him. Not as though faith were a precondition or a token work on your part, but because it is the way of life: to fear, love and trust in God above all things.
So the Cross of Christ — which has redeemed you from sin and death, and reconciled you to God — by which you are righteous in His sight — is also the means by which you are now crucified and called to repentance.
The Cross puts sin to death in you, and puts you to death in this world, in order to bring you to life in the Kingdom of your God and Father.
It crucifies your pride and your despair alike. It puts to death your covetous lust and sinful desires. It kills you, in order to make you alive; it wounds in order to heal. It lays you low, in order to lift you up in mercy and forgiveness, unto faith and life with God in Christ.
It is for that purpose of repentance, for that discipline of faith, that the Lord your God sends the fiery serpents to bite you. That your eyes would be lifted up to the One who is lifted up for you on the pole of the Cross; and that your heart would be lifted up to Him in loving trust.
Thus, the sign that you are given is the sign of the Cross.
And the wisdom that you are granted is the righteousness which is by faith in Christ the Crucified.
The Holy Cross of Christ Jesus is your strength and your new song; for it is your life and your salvation.
Would you see His salvation and sing His song?
Would you see this Jesus; and follow Him; and live with Him, where He is, with the Father in heaven?
If so, then listen to the Voice of the Father, which He speaks to you from heaven in the Person of His Son: in His own flesh and blood, in His Church on earth.
This Voice sounds forth, not for His sake, but for your sake.
It sounds forth in this preaching, in the forgiveness of all your sins. For God has judged the world in Christ; the Lord has cast out the devil with all his wicked temptations and vile accusations; and the Father glorifies Himself in His Son by raising Him from the dead, the firstborn of many brethren, the first-fruits of all who believe in His Name. His Cross is your justification, and His Resurrection is your righteousness.
Look to Him, therefore. You shall not die, but live.
Nor shall you go hungry, but taste and see that the Lord is good.
Follow this Lord Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One, and you shall be with Him. The journey is long and the way is hard, but as the Father honors His Christ and glorifies His Name, so shall He honor you; for He has signed you with His Cross, anointed you with His Spirit, and named you with His Name.
And now the Hour has come. Even though you die, yet shall you live. The very Cross that kills you also feeds you with the fruits of salvation. For the One who is lifted up, here calls you to Himself, to come up and worship at His Feast.
And worthy is that Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, to receive all power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. To Him who reigns in triumph from the Tree of the Cross, be all worship and praise and thanksgiving, forever and ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

12 September 2009

The Word of Christ Matters: in Your Ears and on Your Tongue

Words matter. In fact, everything depends upon words, because God does everything by His Word.

What you say, and how you say it, and what you don’t say, matters. And all your speaking, whether it is good or bad, depends on your hearing. Garbage in, garbage out.

You cannot believe in the one true God with all your heart, nor confess Him rightly with your lips, except by the hearing of the Word of Christ. You cannot pray, praise or give thanks, and you cannot call upon the Name of the Lord, except by the Word and Spirit of Christ. You cannot bless God or your neighbor, but only curse, swear, lie and deceive, foam at the mouth and grind your teeth, apart from the Word of Christ.

That is why it is fundamental to the faith and life of the Church, and necessary to your own Christian faith and life, that there be preachers and teachers of the Word of Christ. That is why preachers must be sent to preach in Jesus’ Name, and teachers must teach as the oracles of God; and disciples must listen and learn, and hear and heed, in order to follow and believe and live.

To be a Christian is first of all to hear the Word of Christ Jesus with the ear of His disciples. And to be a Christian is then also to confess with the mouth the Word that has been heard, from a heart of faith: to speak the same thing that God has spoken, the same Word of Christ Jesus, and by that Word also to pray, praise and give thanks.

To speak with the tongue and lips of a disciple is to glorify the Name of the Lord by confessing who He is and what He has done; and thereby to sustain the weary one with the Word of Christ.

That is what pastors are to do, as preachers and teachers of the Word of Christ; and they are held to a strict accountability for that work, because so much depends upon that preaching & teaching.

But so, in turn, are husbands and wives to speak that Word of Christ to each other.

And parents, with and above all of their other responsibilities, are to catechize their children with that Word of Christ. Not only by careful and consistent instruction, which is of course basic, but so also by their own practice and example.

What you say, and how you speak it, matters.

Consider the consequences, good or bad, for those entrusted to your care. If you speak the Word of Christ to your children, for example, so will they learn to speak it. But if you curse, swear, lie and deceive, what will your children believe, teach and confess?

Consider the father at the foot of the mountain in the Holy Gospel this morning, especially by comparison and contrast to the faithful Syrophoenician woman last Sunday.

The father must himself be catechized, first, in order to pray and confess rightly from a heart of faith when he would bring his son to Jesus. He must first be catechized by the Word of Christ, in order to have a Word of Christ for his son, in order to strengthen and sustain that weary child.

He must hear and believe the Gospel, in order to speak it.

He must be forgiven, in order to forgive.

And so also you.

But the Word of God is not a magical formula, nor a mantra to be invoked like some manmade machine. It is a not a tool in your hand to be mastered and manipulated at your personal whim.

You cannot open even your own ears to hear it, nor can you open your own mind and heart to comprehend it and believe it. Neither can you convert your neighbor’s heart and life; although you can and should confess the Word of Christ, by which alone heart and life may be converted.

On the surface of it, sure, it is fundamental that you must keep on listening and learning, hearing and heeding the Word of Christ. Even if you’ve heard it all before and remember every syllable; you surely must keep listening and learning. Minus that . . . nothing.

But even with that effort and discipline to avail yourself of the Word and listen to it, it is not by your own reason or strength, not by your own intelligence or wisdom, that you believe the Word and trust in it. No, that is by the power of the Word itself, by the working of the Holy Spirit through that Word of Christ, where and when it pleases Him, in those who hear the Gospel.

So, too, for your neighbor as for yourself; for your parents, spouse and children. You speak the Word of Christ to them in faith, but you cannot force or constrain any of them to believe it.

Instead, as often as you listen and as often as you speak, pray: that Christ by His Spirit opens the ears to hear, and the heart to believe, and the lips to confess His Name and show forth His praise.

That is the point and purpose of the Collect in the Liturgy: The Church does not presume even to hear the Word of God relying on herself, but beseeches and depends upon His gracious Spirit.

Listen, then, with confidence but not presumptuously. And as you have heard, so also speak.

And pray that you and your neighbor would hear and believe; for it is only by God’s grace that anyone does. Blessed are you, and Christ be praised, if you hear and believe His Word.

Not that it’s easy. Heavens, no.

You are caught, for now, like that poor father at the bottom of the mountain: down in the valley between faith and unbelief, between life and death, between God and the devil.

Scary stuff, and left to yourself you can’t win.

Not only that, but when the Church’s prayer is answered, and the Word of Christ strikes home in your heart and life, then there is a strange and dreadful confrontation, and a war in your members.

You are thrown into the fire and into the water, as though you were to be utterly destroyed.

And, in truth, you are put to death by the Word, as the Sword of the Spirit slices between bone and marrow and cuts you even to the quick of your unclean spirit.

But this is the fire of the Holy Spirit, and the water of the new birth and regeneration; and this is the death of Christ having its way with you, even the death of His Cross.

By these ways and means of His Word, you are brought to repentance and faith through the free and full forgiveness of all your sins. So that death and the devil do not get to have the last word.

See, here, there is the hand of One who has come down from heaven to help you and save you.

Here there is the hand of One who has gone through the fire and the water, through death and the grave, ahead of you and for you, in order to deliver you and make the way of life for you.

Here there is the hand of the Crucified and Risen One, whose tongue and lips speak Peace and Life to you; who prays for you at the Right Hand of God, and whose Spirit intercedes for you at all times, even when that deaf and mute spirit has gripped your ears and your tongue and lips.

Here there is the hand of One who lays hold of you in love, who raises you up with Himself, from death to life; who has opened your ears to hear and your heart to believe; who opens your mouth and lips, and places on your tongue His own Word-made-Flesh.

So that, as you have heard, and as you believe, so may you speak, and so may you live, by His grace everlasting.

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

04 September 2009

Hymns for Proper 21-25 Series B

First Sunday in Angels’ Tide
Proper 21 (Sunday on September 25—October 1)

Numbers 11:4–6, 10–16, 24–29
James 5:(1–12) 13–20
Mark 9:38–50
Hymn of Invocation
To God the Holy Spirit let us pray (LSB 768)
Hymn of the Day / Catechetical Hymn of the Week
Triune God, be Thou our stay (LSB 505)
Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
Rise, my soul, to watch and pray (LSB 663)
Christ, the Lord of hosts, unshaken (LSB 521)
Lord God, to Thee we give all praise (LSB 522)
How clear is our vocation, Lord (LSB 853)
Hymn of Departure
Lord, Thee I love with all my heart (LSB 708)
Alternative Hymns
Children of the heav’nly Father (LSB 725)
Come down, O Love divine (LSB 501)
Entrust your days and burdens (LSB 754)
Eternal Spirit of the living Christ (LSB 769)
"Forgive our sins as we forgive" (LSB 843)
God of the prophets, bless the prophets’ sons (LSB 682)
God’s own child, I gladly say it (LSB 594)
Hope of the world, Thou Christ of great compassion (LSB 690)
I lie, O Lord, within Your care (LSB 885)
Jesus, lead Thou on (LSB 718)
Let us ever walk with Jesus (LSB 685)
O Christ, our true and only light (LSB 839)
O Holy Spirit, enter in (LSB 913)
O Holy Spirit, grant us grace (LSB 693)
Send, O Lord, Your Holy Spirit (LSB 681)
Shepherd of tender youth (LSB 864)
Sing praise to God, the highest good (LSB 819)
The gifts Christ freely gives (LSB 602)
What is the world to me (LSB 730)
Where charity and love prevail (LSB 845)
Second Sunday in Angels’ Tide
Proper 22 (Sunday on October 2–8)

Genesis 2:18–25
Hebrews 2:1–13 (14–18)
Mark 10:2–16
Hymn of Invocation
From depths of woe I cry to Thee (LSB 607)
Hymn of the Day
Our Father, by whose name (LSB 863)
Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
If Your beloved Son, O God (LSB 568)
The Bridegroom soon will call us (LSB 514) (Catechetical)
These are the holy Ten Commands (LSB 581)
Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands (LSB 458)
Hymn of Departure
O love, how deep, how broad, how high (LSB 544)
Alternative Hymns
All hail the pow’r of Jesus’ name (LSB 549)
All praise to Thee, for Thou, O King divine (LSB 815)
At the name of Jesus (LSB 512)
Children of the heav’nly Father (LSB 725)
Christ sits at God’s right hand (LSB 564)
Christ, the Lord of hosts, unshaken (LSB 521)
Crown Him with many crowns (LSB 525)
God’s own child, I gladly say it (LSB 594)
Hear us, Father, when we pray (LSB 773)
In the shattered bliss of Eden (LSB 572)
Jesus lives! The vict’ry’s won (LSB 490)
Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious (LSB 495)
Lord God, to Thee we give all praise (LSB 522)
Lord of all hopefulness (LSB 738)
Oh, blest the house whate’er befall (LSB 862)
Praise, my soul, the King of heaven (LSB 793)
Since our great High Priest, Christ Jesus (LSB 529)
The Head that once was crowned with thorns (LSB 532)
The tree of life with ev’ry good (LSB 561)
With the Lord begin your task (LSB 869)
Third Sunday in Angels’ Tide
Proper 23 (Sunday on October 9–15)

Amos 5:6–7, 10–15
Hebrews 3:12–19
Mark 10:17–22
Hymn of Invocation
All who believe and are baptized (LSB 601)
Hymn of the Day
Thee will I love, my strength, my tower (LSB 694)
Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
Christ, the Life of all the living (LSB 420) (Catechetical)
Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior (LSB 627)
Jesus, grant that balm and healing (LSB 421)
Entrust your days and burdens (LSB 754)
Hymn of Departure
Jesus, Thy boundless love to me (LSB 683)
Alternative Hymns
"Come, follow Me," the Savior spake (LSB 688)
Evening and morning (LSB 726)
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father (LSB 809)
Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer (LSB 918)
Hope of the world, Thou Christ of great compassion (LSB 690)
Jesus, lead Thou on (LSB 718)
Jesus, priceless treasure (LSB 743)
My hope is built on nothing less (LSB 575)
O God, our help in ages past (LSB 733)
Oh, how great is Your compassion (LSB 559)
One thing’s needful; Lord, this treasure (LSB 536)
Seek where you may to find a way (LSB 557)
Son of God, eternal Savior (LSB 842)
Take my life and let it be (LSB 783)
The Gospel shows the Father’s grace (LSB 580)
The Law of God is good and wise (LSB 579)
These are the holy Ten Commands (LSB 581)
Today Your mercy calls us (LSB 915)
When in the hour of deepest need (LSB 615)
You are the way; through You alone (LSB 526)
Fourth Sunday in Angels’ Tide
Proper 24 (Sunday on October 16–22)

Ecclesiastes 5:10–20
Hebrews 4:1–13 (14–16)
Mark 10:23–31
Hymn of Invocation
Holy God, we praise Thy name (LSB 940)
Hymn of the Day / Catechetical Hymn of the Week
Rejoice, my heart, be glad and sing (LSB 737)
Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
I walk in danger all the way (LSB 716)
Jesus, priceless treasure (LSB 743)
Hope of the world, Thou Christ of great compassion (LSB 690)
What is the world to me (LSB 730)
Hymn of Departure
May God bestow on us His grace (LSB 823)
Alternative Hymns
At the Lamb’s high feast we sing (LSB 633)
Blessed Jesus, at Your Word (LSB 904)
Blest be the tie that binds (LSB 649)
Built on the Rock the Church shall stand (LSB 645)
Consider how the birds above (LSB 736)
For all the saints who from their labors rest (LSB 677)
Hear us, Father, when we pray (LSB 773)
How clear is our vocation, Lord (LSB 853)
I trust, O Lord, Your holy name (LSB 734)
Jesus sinners doth receive (LSB 609)
O Christ, our hope, our hearts’ desire (LSB 553)
O day of rest and gladness (LSB 906)
O God, O Lord of heaven and earth (LSB 834)
O Jesus, blessed Lord, to Thee (LSB 632)
Salvation unto us has come (LSB 555)
Since our great High Priest, Christ Jesus (LSB 529)
Take my life and let it be (LSB 783)
The gifts Christ freely gives (LSB 602)
Today Your mercy calls us (LSB 915)
Water, blood, and Spirit crying (LSB 597)
Fifth Sunday in Angels’ Tide
Proper 25 (Sunday on October 23–29)

Jeremiah 31:7–9
Hebrews 7:23–28
Mark 10:46–52
Hymn of Invocation
Hear us, Father, when we pray (LSB 773)
Hymn of the Day
From God can nothing move me (LSB 713)
Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
In God, my faithful God (LSB 745)
Christ sits at God’s right hand (LSB 564)
Father most holy, merciful and tender (LSB 504) (Catechetical)
Sing praise to God, the highest good (LSB 819)
Hymn of Departure
Since our great High Priest, Christ Jesus (LSB 529)
Alternative Hymns
All depends on our possessing (LSB 732)
Before the throne of God above (LSB 574)
Christ be my leader by night as by day (LSB 861)
I know that my Redeemer lives (LSB 461)
I will sing my Maker’s praises (LSB 977e; TLH 25; LW 439)
If thou but trust in God to guide thee (LSB 750)
In the shattered bliss of Eden (LSB 572)
Jesus, refuge of the weary (LSB 423)
Kyrie! God, Father in heav’n above (LSB 942)
Let us ever walk with Jesus (LSB 685)
My song is love unknown (LSB 430)
Praise the One who breaks the darkness (LSB 849)
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (LSB 790)
Rise, shine, you people (LSB 825)
Son of God, eternal Savior (LSB 842)
The Law of God is good and wise (LSB 579)
Today Your mercy calls us (LSB 915)
Why should cross and trial grieve me (LSB 756)
Word of God, come down on earth (LSB 545)
Your hand, O Lord, in days of old (LSB 846)