The life of discipleship is to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, even unto death upon His Cross, and so to enter with Him into the Resurrection of His Body and the Life everlasting. So, too, the life of discipleship within His Church on earth is the fellowship of forgiven sinners, gathered together by His grace in the faith of His Gospel, in love for Him and for each other.
Faith and Love. As always, that is the sum and substance of the Christian life in Christ Jesus. Faith and love govern your stewardship of money and stuff, as the Lord Jesus has catechized you over the past several weeks. And it is faith and love that likewise govern your life in His Church.
In your life together as Christians — within your families; in relation to your classmates, comrades, or co-workers; and especially in your fellowship with one another as brothers and sisters of the one Lord, Jesus Christ, as sons and daughters of His one God and Father, sharing one Holy Baptism in His Name, one Holy Gospel, one Holy Communion, and the anointing of one Holy Spirit — faith and love find their center and their chief exercise in daily repentance and forgiveness of sins.
Repentance and Forgiveness. These are your heartbeat and your respiration as a Christian disciple, baptized into Christ Jesus. They pulse and breathe with the catechesis and confession of Christ, who was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification. That is how you live before God, by faith in His Word, in the righteousness and purity, innocence and blessedness of the Lord Jesus Christ. And that is how you are to live in love for your neighbors in the world.
Let’s face it, though, that’s hard to do, because you are a sinner, and your neighbor is a sinner, too. It is inevitable that you and your neighbor are going to stumble and fall in your relationship with each other, sometimes stumbling into each other and crashing, at other times falling away and drifting apart. That’s not okay, but it’s still going to happen (and your flesh is inclined to let it).
Thank God for the recourse of the Fifth Petition, that is, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” whereby our Lord Jesus and our dear Father in heaven draw a line through the entire ledger and absolve all of our debts and trespasses and sins. God knows you need that provision and daily recourse, and He daily and richly provides it through the Gospel.
Seven times a day, or seventy times seven, as the case may be, as often as you fall short and fail, the Lord calls you to repentance and to faith in His forgiveness of your sins. Such long-suffering patience, compassion, and mercy flow in and with and from His great heart of love for you. And that divine Love shall not fail, because it rests securely and forever in the Resurrection of Christ.
So that is how you are to love your neighbor, too, especially your brother or sister in Christ. Seven times a day, or seventy times seven, as often as he or she trespasses against you, rebuke in love, readily forgive, and gladly do good. Thus do you take up the Cross for your neighbor, as Christ the Lord has done for you and for all people. That is how you are to live and love as His disciple.
By the same token, wherever you have sinned against your neighbor; wherever you have hurt instead of helped; wherever you have caused your brother or sister to stumble; and wherever you have harbored anger and refused to forgive — Repent. Become entirely new. Drown yourself in the deep blue sea of your Baptism into Christ. Be crucified and buried with Him by your Baptism into His death. Die to your sin, and put your old Adam to death by contrition and repentance.
What does that mean? And what does that look like in practice? Confess your faults, and make amends where you are able. In humility be reconciled to your neighbor. Heal the hurt that you have caused, and begin to help wherever you can. Speak the truth in love. Let go of your anger in the peace of Christ Jesus. And forgive those who have hurt you.
It’s not as though sin were “no big deal,” and it’s not as though you could save yourself. Indeed, sin is deadly and damnable, and you are not at all able to bring yourself to life. But as Christ has sacrificed Himself upon the Cross, and as the same Lord Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, He has abolished death forever, and He has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. He forgives you all your sins, and He saves you from death and hell for eternal Life with Himself.
Therefore, resist the devil and he will flee from you; he must, he has no choice, for he has been defeated once-for-all by the Cross. But trust Christ Jesus and live, for He is most certainly true.
Do not grow weary of doing good. Rather, persisting in patience, with steadfast faith in the Lord, love your neighbor and forgive his sins against you. Not for the sake of any thanks or praise or benefit, but simply for the sake of Christ Jesus, because it is the good and right thing to do.
Do good, because it is your duty. Such love is the fulfillment of the Law, which does no harm to the neighbor but covers his sins in mercy, carries his burdens with charity and compassion, and bears with him in peace. That is your Lord’s command, and that is your neighbor’s need.
So live and love like that, and do not despair or lose heart.
It is hard, to be sure. Honestly, it is impossible for your sinful mortal flesh — except Christ Jesus raise you up and recreate you in His own Image and Likeness.
Take a cue from the example of the Lord’s Apostles, then, and pray: “Lord, increase our faith!” “We believe, but help, Thou, our unbelief!”
How else shall you be patient and forgive and do good, when you are so tempted, tried, and tested by a world of sinners, and you yourself are also sinful and unclean?
Is it not a real pain? Is it not tedious and wearisome to put up with your neighbors, with all their faults and failings? Well, be sure that goes both ways, as you also are descended from Adam and Eve. And yet, for all of that, the dear Lord Jesus loves both you and all your neighbors. He bears with you, He forgives you, and He helps you — again and again and again.
No matter how difficult your life may be; no matter how challenging your duties; no matter how heavy your burdens; no matter how long and hard your labors may be; no matter how much you sweat and bleed; and no matter how much you accomplish and achieve by your efforts, you won’t ever do more than what you ought to do. You never will “overdo it” with faith or love.
Your Lord is not unreasonable or unfair in what He asks of you, but you shall never exceed what He has commanded. You are an unworthy servant. At best you have only done what is your duty. But you have not done all that you should, whereas you have done what you should not.
Yet, the Lord Jesus is not only fair in His commands, but He Himself completes and fulfills, satisfies, and supersedes His whole Law for you. How’s that for a gracious Master? Not only is He reasonable in what He assigns, but He also does the entire job on your behalf! That which you should do, He does for you. And that which you ought to suffer, He suffers in your place.
As He commands you to love and serve and forgive and care for your neighbor, so much the more does He love and serve and forgive and care for you.
Does He not lay down His life for you in love? Does He not gird Himself to serve you, to wash your dirty feet, to wait on you, to feed you with His Body and His Blood? Does He not speak His Word of Holy Absolution, with no strings attached, and by it fully and freely forgive you all your sins? And does He not daily and richly provide you with all that you need for both body and soul, for this life on earth, and for the Resurrection to eternal Life in heaven?
Surely He does all of this and more. He reveals and gives Himself to you, with all His fruits and benefits, with all His grace, mercy, and peace, by His Ministry of the Gospel. For He has not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His own Body and Life as a Ransom for many. For you!
It is true that, as your Lord and Master, He commands you to work in love for your neighbors, to feed and clothe them with patient charity, even as you wait upon the Resurrection of the body and the Life everlasting. In doing so unto even the least of these little ones of His, you do so unto your Lord Jesus. But He Himself is already doing no less than all of this for you, all by His grace alone.
Who, then, is the greatest? The one who reclines at the table and eats, or the one who stands and serves? Is it not the one who reclines and eats? Yet, the Lord Jesus is here with you as the One who girds Himself to serve you. He invites you to recline at His Table, to eat and drink from His own hand, to feast upon His Body and His Blood, and so to be served by Him. For His greatness is His mercy. His almighty power and strength are in His gracious providence and loving service.
His Glory is the willing sacrifice of His Cross and His free and full salvation of sinners.
Be patient, therefore, as you bear His Cross, and as you love and serve your neighbors within your various stations in life, as a Christian disciple of Jesus. Be sure that what you suffer in faith and love is neither pointless nor in vain. Though you are surrounded and oppressed by the wicked, the Lord shall vindicate you at the proper time. Though justice is frequently perverted in this world, your righteousness is sure and certain — not in yourself, but in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead. He is your Justification, and you live by faith in Him, by the grace of His Gospel.
Even when He rebukes you for your sins and calls you to repentance, He does so in love, in His mercy and compassion for you, in order to recall you to Himself through faith in His forgiveness.
It is certain that He is and remains always faithful. And as He has called you to the holy calling of discipleship, as He has named you with His own Name and bound you to Himself, and as He has bound Himself to you, He shall not deny you. He shall never leave you nor forsake you. As He drowns you in the waters of your Baptism and puts you to death every day with all your sins and evil desires, so does He raise you up each day to newness of faith and life and love and peace.
Your faith and life are His good work and His free gift. Return thanks for that grace of God, which He has granted you by the Gospel and delivered to you by the loving service of your parents and pastors and others. Give thanks to God for those people through whom He serves you, and rejoice in the privilege that you are now also given to serve others in the same way — your children and grandchildren, as the Lord so provides, or whomever else the Lord may entrust to your care.
Even when your faith is weak and weary, a dimly burning wick, so small and struggling to survive, it is sustained by the Gospel of the Lord’s forgiveness, and in Him it receives and lays hold of the Atonement of His Cross and the righteousness of His Resurrection from the dead. Such is the power of repentance and the authority of His forgiveness. That is to say, all that Christ Jesus is, and everything that He has done for you and accomplished on your behalf, it is all now pressed into your hand and laid upon your heart and soul, your body, mind, and spirit, by His grace through the Gospel. Thus, He is yours, and you are His, and He is with you always. He is for you forever, and thus do you live, in and with Him, unto the Life everlasting.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.