30 March 2011

Lenten Catechesis on the Our Father

It is a remarkable privilege that God has given you, to call upon Him in prayer. All the more so, in that He has given you the very Words with which to approach Him. Such prayer is not by your own design, nor a matter of personal choice or invention. Rather, it is a gift of Divine grace, that God is your dear Father, that you are His dear child, and that He has given you both the invitation and the means to come boldly before Him. All of this in and through Christ Jesus, and given to you in the waters of Holy Baptism.

From the earliest days of the Church, the Our Father — along with the Apostles’ Creed — has had a special relationship to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Catechumens in the early church would receive and learn these two Chief Parts of the Christian faith during Lent; then, at their Baptism during the Great Vigil of Easter, they would confess the Creed as they were immersed in the water, and afterwards (by virtue of their Baptism) they would pray the Our Father for the first time, together with the whole congregation of the Church.

To be sure, it is only by our Baptism into Christ, the Son of God, that we are given the privilege of approaching the Lord God Almighty as Our Father, just as dear children ask their dear fathers here on earth, but, thankfully, with more confidence than we could ever have in any human father.

Because we pray to our Father in virtue of our Baptism into Christ Jesus, the Lord’s Prayer — like all Christian prayer, properly understood — is never “private” prayer. There is no such thing as a “private Christian” or “private Christianity.” Even when you take it to the Lord in prayer in the solitude of your own home, you do so as a member of the Body of Christ, as a member of His Church of all times and places. It is always our Father, and never simply my Father.

The use of the Our Father, in particular, along with other standard prayers (such as Luther’s Morning and Evening Prayers and the historic rites of the Liturgy), is a confession of this “catholicity” of the Church and of your connection to it. The Our Father is part of our common language as Christians, that is, the special language we all speak as fellow citizens of our Father’s Kingdom. For the Words we use — even before we begin to “understand” them intellectually — these Words that God has spoken and given for us to pray and confess — are Words that every Christian has received and speaks, a confession of the one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all.

The catholicity of the Our Father is demonstrated in the special importance attached to the Fifth Petition (“forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”), which Jesus reiterates in His teaching of the Our Father. Since you pray in communion with the entire Church — in the unity of Christ Jesus — your relationship with others (especially your fellow Christians) is an integral part of your prayer. And, as a Christian, that relationship is defined chiefly by forgiveness.

You come before the Lord in prayer with repentance and a humble recognition of your own sins; for you know that of yourself you are not worthy to stand in His presence, and that you do so only by His tender grace and mercy. Each and every prayer that you bring to Him, therefore, presupposes and depends upon His forgiveness. And in this confession of your sin, in your reliance on the mercy and free forgiveness of your gracious Lord, you therefore pledge and commit yourself heartily to forgive and gladly to do good to those who trespass against you.

Along the same lines, you are given to pray the Our Father as a kind of discipline, as part of your Christian discipleship, because it lifts your heart and mind above and beyond your own selfish cares and concerns to pray for the whole Church, for all the baptized children of God, for all your brothers and sisters in Christ, wherever they may be in His vast Kingdom. For all that you pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, you pray not only for yourself, but for all who call upon God as their Father, and for all whom He would call to be His children.

Indeed, the Our Father is truly an all-encompassing prayer. It includes (along with forgiveness) everything you need for this body and life, and for the life everlasting; nothing is excluded. There is no situation or circumstance for which the Our Father is not most ideally suited, nothing you might face which is not addressed in these seven Petitions.

Whenever you find yourself at a loss for words (as Saint Paul affirms that none of us know how to pray as we ought), you are given recourse and refuge in this Prayer that your Lord Himself has taught you to pray. Although your heart and mind are never as pious or as focused as they should be in this life on earth, your lips are thus guided by the Words of God Himself. So also does the Holy Spirit pray with you in these Words of Christ, as He is always praying for you, in your sinful weakness.

When you pray and intercede for others, too — for your family and friends, for the Church, for those who are sick — again, the Lord’s Prayer is always most appropriate, a prayer for all seasons.

Certainly, you should never feel that you have nothing to say, nor worry that you aren’t being “creative” or “clever” enough. “When you pray,” says Jesus our Lord, “say this”: “Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. . . .”

Accordingly, the Lutheran Church has always included the Our Father in all of her orders of service —whether simple or elaborate, both short and long alike. What is more, Dr. Luther teaches in his Small Catechism that fathers should include the Our Father in the daily prayers of the household and family: first thing in the morning, and at night before bed, and both before and after every meal.

In short, as God’s own dear child, you do as Saint Paul writes; that is, you cry out, “Abba! Father!” to your Father in heaven. “Abba,” as some of you have probably heard, was the Jewish equivalent of “Daddy,” or even the infant cooing of “Dadda.” Thus, in following Luther’s guidelines — praying the Our Father eight times a day — you are not unlike an infant or toddler, learning how to speak, babbling “Dadda, Dadda, Dadda,” over and over throughout your day, with the grateful affection of a little child for the very dear Father Who loves you and cares for you. Perhaps you have heard my own Katharina’s version of this, as she often greets me with: “My Daddy, my Daddy, my Daddy.”

In praying this dear prayer, the Our Father, with your own children, and by teaching them to pray in this way, you pass on more than just a single prayer. You actually teach them how to speak the Word of God with the language of faith. You teach them the most basic pattern of true worship.

In fact, the Our Father encompasses the entire scope of Divine Service and Christian worship in a nutshell. It is the gracious Word of Christ to you and to His Church on earth, and so it is His work and His good gift. For this precious thing is not of our own fabrication or design, nor is it anything that any of us could have thought up or imagined. Like all Divine Service, it comes to you from God. And when you pray in this manner, it does not cease to be His Word and His work in you. Not that your praying is the Gospel or a means of grace, but the Words themselves, with which the Lord Jesus opens your lips to call upon the Father in His Name, they are a gift of pure Gospel and grace.

Your praying of the Our Father, on the other hand, is a genuine good work of faith, a sacrifice of repentance and thanksgiving, and an act of worship in Spirit and Truth (that is to say, the worship of the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit, by means of His Word of Truth).

How appropriate it is, therefore, and how richly multifaceted the Our Father is in its use within the Lutheran Liturgy. In Matins and Vespers, it is part of that daily (morning and evening) sacrifice of prayer that rises before the Lord as the holy incense of faith. In the Service of the Word, it is the summary and conclusion of any and all other prayers, covering all for which the Lord would have us pray. Prior to the Words of Institution in the Divine Service, it is a sacrifice of thanksgiving, offered in grateful anticipation of the Words and the Gifts of Christ Himself about to be received.

Where the Our Father is prayed, according to the ancient practice of the Church Catholic, that is, immediately prior to the Distribution of the Holy Communion, it there serves as a petition that He would (by His Word and Holy Spirit) lead all the communicants to recognize the Body and Blood of Christ in the bread and wine, and that He would grant us to receive this Bread of Life and this Cup of Salvation with thanksgiving, in true faith, and to our abundant blessing. Not only that, but it also confesses that He does do all these things (and more).

As Luther indicates repeatedly in the Small Catechism, God answers your petitions even without your prayer. Just as He has promised, “Before you call, I will answer; and while you are yet speaking, I will act.” Thus, everything you pray for in the Our Father — which includes all that you need for your body and soul — is already granted freely and fully, by His grace alone in Christ Jesus.

Christian prayer is not a button or a cord that you push or pull for service from the Lord, as though He were a household servant instead of your dear Father in heaven, or as though He were not already (even without your prayer) daily and richly providing you with all good things — solely out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you. Surely He gives daily bread to all people, even to the wicked, and He causes His sun to shine and His rain to fall on both the evil and the good. But pray that He would grant you grace to see His fatherly hand in all these things, and so cling to Him by faith alone, trusting not in yourself but in Christ and His mercy.

Finally, dear son or daughter of God, pray the Our Father — and do so with confident faith in Christ — because He Himself has commanded you to pray in this way, and He has promised to hear you.

Pray to Him, therefore, as He has taught, in much the same way that you go to Church and receive the Holy Sacrament: not because you “feel” like it (but also and especially when you don’t!); not because you thereby do some great “favor” for the Lord; and certainly not as though you were somehow worthy of yourself to stand before Him. But pray to Him because He has commanded you to pray, and because He has promised to hear and answer your prayer in Christ Jesus, and because you need His gracious mercy and forgiveness every day of your life.

Thanks be to God that you have it without measure in His Son: your Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him alone be all honor and glory and praise, both now and forever. Amen.

26 March 2011

Beloved, Drink the Living Water of Your Bridegroom

The Lord your God has saved you. He has brought you ought of Egypt to receive His gifts in faith and with thanksgiving, and thus to worship Him in righteousness and holiness before Him.

This is most certainly true, despite appearances and all experience to the contrary. But you surely do not yet see it or feel it. Not when you are surrounded on all sides by desert wilderness, and there’s no well or water to be found. Not when sin, death, the devil and hell still assail and oppress you, so that you are staggered and cannot stand.

It is still true, nevertheless, that God the Lord has saved you, and even now He is giving you life; even though your sinful heart is doubtful and afraid, irritable and quarrelsome.

In spite of His great and free salvation, your thoughts, words and actions — proceeding from your sinful heart — do not praise and honor the Lord Your God, but profane His holy Name. Instead of worshiping Him (in faith and with thanksgiving), you grumble against Him, and against His servants. And you put Him to the test: “Is the Lord among us or not!?”

Thus hardening your heart against Him, you close yourself to His gracious gifts of life; you cover your ears against His Word, and you shut your mouth to His food and drink. And you go thirsty. In foolish desperation, you long to go back to your former idolatry, to the land of sin and death (from which the Lord has set you free), where all the water turns to blood, and the more you drink, the more you thirst. In truth, by such apostasy, you’ve already gone back to pagan Egypt.

Now, perhaps you have considered the irony that Elizabeth Taylor died this past week, in the days leading up to this Lord’s Day with its appointed Gospel. Some of you probably remember her movies when they first played and were popular, but her heyday was before my time. For my part, all I ever heard or knew about Elizabeth Taylor is that she had once been a movie star, that she used to be one of the most beautiful women in the world, and that she had been married and divorced many times. Seven different husbands (one of whom she married twice), and all but one of her marriages ended in divorce (one of her husbands died within a year or two of their wedding).

When asked why she got married so often, Elizabeth Taylor replied flippantly and with profanity, that she had no idea. One can only assume that she was searching for something she never found, and in the process, the Lord’s sacred institution of marriage came to be regarded as a joke and a punch line. But there is nothing funny about adultery, and there is a tragic sadness to all of this. All the more so because Elizabeth Taylor sought her salvation among the Jews, that is to say, in the false religion of Judaism, apart from Christ; but she did not find what she needed there, either.

The Samaritan woman at the well in this morning’s Holy Gospel had a checkered past, not so different from Elizabeth Taylor’s, but she was given what she needed in the water and the Word of Christ Jesus. Until that day when He went to meet her and call her to Himself, she had thirsted for something she did not even know, nor could she ever have found it on her own. Not in her series of husbands, nor in her fornication with the man she was then shacked up with. She needed forgiveness for her many sins, and reconciliation with God, and the Holy Spirit of the Messiah.

Your needs are no different than hers were. Your own sins are no less damnable than hers, even if they have not included adultery and fornication. Even setting aside the Word of the Lord, by which He condemns the lust of your eyes, of your heart and your mind, as adultery, you have your own covetous lust, your own desperate thirst for that which is not God.

What is it that you thirst for? What is your drink of choice, and what well do you attempt to draw it from? The false gods of Egypt take many forms. You can make an idol out of marriage, for example, even if you’re only married once. Maybe it’s alcoholism or chronic drunkenness, or gluttony, or maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with actual food and drink for your body. God knows that you need to eat and drink, after all, and He is gracious in giving you daily bread and fresh water. But what do your heart and mind, your soul and spirit thirst for? What do you crave?

What do you worship? That is the question at hand. Whatever it is that you thirst for — not only with your lips and tongue and throat, but with your heart and soul and all your strength — that is your god. And your hard work in going to fetch a pail from that well — that is your “worship.”

Therefore, if your well and your water are anything but Christ Jesus and His Gospel — Repent

Return to the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Turn away from your covetous lust and desperate selfishness. Leave behind the water pot with which you would draw your own salvation. Do not “obey your thirst” for anything that is not the true and living God.

Instead, seek the Lord where He may be found, where His Word is spoken, where His gifts are given. Find Him where He comes to find you: in the courts of the Lord’s House, in the midst of His true Jerusalem. Not with grumbling, anger and complaint, but in faith and fervent prayer.

Beloved, if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that speaks to you, then you would ask of Him, and He would give you living water. So ask, and do not doubt, but firmly believe that He will give you what you need. Not on this mountain versus that one, neither here nor there per se, but in His Church on earth — wherever on earth it may be — established and built upon the Rock of Christ.

Even Samaria or South Bend become the Mountain of God when Christ is at hand.

Here your thirst is quenched, in ways you would never have imagined. For here you are cleansed within and without, in body and soul, by the Spirit of Christ: from His Cross and Passion.

To be sure, where you have sinned He admonishes you. He reproves, corrects and exhorts. He calls you to repentance. But still, He does not write you off. He does not make an end of you. He does not strike you with His Law to stone you to death and destroy you, although you deserve it.

He does speak His Law forthrightly, in order to expose your sin: to tell you everything that you have done wrong and all that you have failed to do right. And it is the case that your sin must be condemned and punished; it must be put to death and dealt with, lest it bring you down to Sheol.

But see now the staff which His Law wields, and hear how He strikes with it, not you, but the Rock (which is Christ). For the Lord takes the blow and the burden of the Law upon Himself. By the wood of the Cross, the heavy staff of Moses cuts Yahweh to the quick. He is stricken, smitten and afflicted, beaten and bruised, pierced and wounded for your transgressions. For your salvation.

He has been thirsty, even to the point of death, so that you may be given to drink from His well.

It is entirely and solely for the sake of His love that He does so. Not because you are so loveable, but for His own sake, because of who He is, He loves you. In some ways, it really is that simple.

He remembers you and loves you. As in the past, so also now and forever. He remembers you by taking action to save you, to bring you back out of Egypt to Himself; to turn your idolatrous heart from gods of stone to Himself, your God in the flesh. All of this He does at His own expense, by His own sacrifice, by His holy and precious blood, by His innocent suffering and death.

For He is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, who has saved you. He is the Rock of your Salvation, your strength and your song, who has brought you out of bondage into life. He follows you in steadfast faithfulness, through the wilderness all the days of your life, even to the last.

It is true that you are rocked and staggered by tribulation, by hurts and fears within and without, by trials and temptations, so great and so many that you cannot stand upright.

You are always tripping and stumbling and falling, and dying.

But take heart, dear one. The Lord is with you.

Yes, He is hidden from your sight for now, and He is with you in the form of a hard rock — but even so, His hardness is not set against you; it is for you, that He may be your sure foundation.

Behold the living water streaming from His open side, and with it flows His own Blood of the New Testament. From this Rock, the font and the chalice have been filled with His Spirit and His Life for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. Here is water. Drink. You shall not die but live.

The same life-giving water of the Holy Spirit is poured out for you, even in the desert, in this very preaching of the Gospel. It quenches your deepest thirst by forgiving all your sins. It cleanses your soul and your body with the righteousness of Christ, your Savior. It gives you eternal life.

Therefore your tribulations, though many, shall not be permitted to lay you waste on the desert floor. They rather produce in you hope and patient endurance, which shall not be disappointed. For none of this depends upon you, but on Christ, and He does not fail; He shall not fall.

By your own strength, you cannot stand, but Christ sustains you. Even in His death, He is lifted up to save you, and it is in His grace and peace and righteousness, by His Cross, that you do now stand. His Spirit lives in you, and you live in Him. In Him you are strong and courageous!

This is the true worship of God, that is, the Cross of Christ, by which He offers up Himself to God the Father in perfect faith and steadfast love. His Body and His Life are offered up for you and for all, even unto death, in order to atone for the sins of the world and to reconcile the world to God. And by His Word and Holy Spirit, you are united with Him in that sacrifice of faith and love: not that you make atonement for yourself or anyone else, but that you are returned to God the Father in Christ, and having been justified by His grace, you live and abide with Him in peace.

As He comes to meet you in His Church, and He speaks His Word of the Gospel to you, He gives you the gift of His Spirit, who also unites you with Christ Jesus in the one true faith. Thus, by His grace, through His Holy Spirit, you worship the Father in and with Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.

Not only that, but in such faith before God, you also live (and worship Him) in fervent love for one another. For where you are not driven by a temporal thirst that is never satiated and never can be satisfied — when your thirst is for the one true God, who freely pours Himself out for you in Christ Jesus and fills you with Himself in the Person of the Holy Spirit — then you overflow with divine love for others. You are faithful in your marriage to the spouse that God has given you, or you are chaste and pure in your life outside of marriage, but either way you love and serve your neighbors at hand. You forgive those who trespass against you, and what is more, you gladly do them good.

It is ever and only in Christ Jesus, and always by His grace alone, that you now stand before God in perfect peace, and that you so live and love in His presence in righteousness, innocence and blessedness. Your life never does advance beyond this dear Lord Jesus, the Christ, but you live and move in Him by faith in the Word that He speaks to you in love.

Really, as St. Paul also says, it is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you, and you in Him.

And for now, in this life on earth, it is in, with and under His Cross. It is hidden from your eyes, so that you neither know it nor have it apart from His Word and the preaching of it.

Where you thus discover, in yourself, that you continue to falter, to fall short and to fail, first of all take heart that your sins are forgiven. That is what the Gospel is and does: the forgiveness of all your sins. Day after day, they are washed away by the water and the blood that flow from the side of Christ Jesus, which He pours out for you in His Church by and with the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, do not despair, and do not suppose that you will or you must (or that you even could) rectify yourself and restore your own life. Rather, simply return to that fountain of life, to Christ and His Spirit, by returning to His Gospel, to His means of grace, to His Church on earth.

That is the well at which He is found, where He freely does pour out His living water for you.

Do you recall the story when Abraham’s servant went to find a bride for Isaac? He waited at a well, where the women went to draw water, and when Rebekah came he asked her for a drink, in much the same way that Jesus asked of the Samaritan woman in this morning’s Gospel. The goal was not to be served, but to serve: to give the good gifts of the Father, to woo and to win a bride for the Son. So was Rebekah called to be the bride of Isaac, and so was that Samaritan woman called to her true and heavenly Bridegroom.

Dearly beloved, the same is here true for you!

Bride of Christ, rejoice! For here at hand is your true Bridegroom, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of the Father. He has sent His servant here to you, to give you His good gifts, to woo you and to win you with His gracious love and tender forgiveness, and to bring you home to Himself.

Come, therefore, and drink deeply from His Cup, from His own hand. Drink the living water that flows freely from His open heart into yours. Hear His Word of the Gospel, which is Spirit and Truth. Receive His free gifts, which are life and salvation. For He is indeed the Savior of the world. Not only that, He is your Savior and your God, and you are His beloved.

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

18 March 2011

In the House of St. Joseph, the Son of David

In St. Joseph we find a man like his father David at his best. He is a faithful man, righteous by faith in the Word and promises of God, who quietly does what the Lord commands, steadfast in that faith and steady in his love for others.

We may affirm that Joseph was a sinner, a finite mortal man of flesh and blood, with flaws and weaknesses of his own. He was not perfect, nor is he the Christ, your Savior. Yet, this son of David is a man after his father’s heart. Though not a king of Israel, he is a son who walks in the ways of his father, King David. And as for the record of the Holy Scriptures, the Lord has set this man before you, this St. Joseph, son of David, as an example of faith and love, faithfulness and righteousness. What the Lord has given you to know about him are not his flaws and weaknesses, whatever those may have been, but the strength of his obedience and service.

In St. Joseph you men are shown an exemplary husband and father, no matter how unique his particular household and family circumstances were. In the immediate cut and thrust of his life on earth, he was called upon to do nothing so remarkably different than you have been (or will be) called to do: to love and care for his wife, to provide for his family, to guard and keep, protect and teach his children. What else did he have to go on but the Word of God? But what is remarkable is the way he received and trusted, followed and obeyed that Word without question, without hesitation, without complaint, and without fail.

You, now, do the same in your own vocations, in your own place in life, in whatever your circumstances may be. Hear what God speaks to you. Believe and trust His promises. Do what He commands. Honor your father and your mother. Love and cherish your spouse. Care for your children; feed them and clothe them, guard and protect them, pray for them and teach them to pray, as you confess the Word of God for them by your words and actions. Forgive their sins, and love them, as you are to forgive and love all your neighbors.

Do not doubt that God is with you in such works of faith and love, within the vocations to which He has called you. And do not suppose that it is all an empty exercise, as though it meant nothing and made no difference. Your confidence in Him is not misplaced, and your labors are not in vain.

Consider what the Lord your God did and accomplished through St. Joseph, the son of David. Of course God could have done whatever in some other way, in any way He wanted, but here is the way He willed and chose to act: to protect and care for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, and to guard and keep her Son, the dear Lord Jesus Christ. It is St. Joseph who gives the holy and precious name, “Jesus,” to the Child born of Mary. It is Joseph who takes them out of danger into safety, who flees with them to Egypt, provides for them there, and then brings them home again to Nazareth. It is Joseph who establishes the house and home in which the little Lord Jesus lives and grows up on earth.

In this, the humble carpenter is given to do such things as his great and royal ancestor was not.

But to each his own. And so also to you.

There is a mighty greatness to St. Joseph — who exceeds not only his father, King David, but also his ancient namesake, the son of Israel — because he receives and provides for the Lord Himself and His holy Mother. His real greatness in performing these truly good works, according to the Word and promises of God, is the greatness of faith in the very Christ Jesus he is given to foster and feed as a father on earth, and the greatness of self-sacrificing love for this Boy and His Mom.

By such faith, in such love, indeed, St. Joseph shares the greatness of that Son of David who was conceived and born without his help to his betrothed Bride, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Already in that circumstance, you should remember and realize that the greatness of faith and love, here in this life on earth, is the greatness of the Cross of Christ. It is the greatness of faith in that which God has spoken to us by His Son, which is not yet seen or experienced but is hidden and hoped for. It is the greatness of faith in the forgiveness of His Cross, in the hope of His Resurrection from the dead, in the face of sins and suffering, sickness and sorrow — and, yes, in the face of death itself.

It is the greatness of love that bears with the neighbor in his or her frailty, flaws and frustrations. It is the greatness of love that forgives all things and continues to serve without reward, without thanks — and does not grow weary of doing good. It is the greatness of love that perseveres in patience, without bitterness or complaint, even under the weighty burden of the Cross.

You are called to live by such faith, to live in such love, while it is still night. There is darkness all around you — and within — and the constant threat of danger and death. You are called to move forward, to go where you have never been, to live in a foreign land as a stranger and sojourner. You are called to wait upon the Lord, and in the meantime simply to do what He has given you to do: as a husband and father, or wife and mother; as a son or daughter, sister or brother; as a member of the Body of Christ, and as a citizen of the state where you live on earth; as a carpenter or craftsman, a king, a prince or a peasant.

Do your job. Love your family. Serve your neighbor. And wait upon the Lord in the hope of the Resurrection — hearing and heeding His Word, calling upon His Name, receiving His gifts, and resting in the place He has made for you, in the House that He has established for you, in the Peace of His Gospel (His forgiveness), which surpasses all earthly wisdom and human comprehension.

The example of St. Joseph demonstrates that you can believe and trust, and live and love in this way, by faith. You are not called to do the impossible, to do too much, to do more than your “fair share,” or more than you can bear.

Hush your excuses and complaints. Lay your hand upon your lips to silence your doubts and questions. Listen instead to what the Lord has spoken, and do as He has said.

It isn’t a matter of making a name for yourself, nor of building a great tower for yourself that reaches to the heavens.

Nor does the Lord wait upon you to build a house for Him, as though He needed your works and your gifts and your help.

It is rather to rest in the promises of God, to live and reside in the House that great David’s greatest Son has established and built. He has made and provided this place for you, with Him, that you may have peace: peace from all your enemies round about, peace within your heart and mind, and peace before God, both now and forever and ever.

He has already called you out of death into life, out of darkness into light, out of danger into safety — out of the cold, into His own house and home. He has done so in your Baptism, as He has already accomplished the same for you in Christ Jesus. For that which Abraham, David and Joseph waited upon and hoped for, God has fulfilled for you and for all in His Son.

Out of Egypt He has called His Son.

Out of death and the grave He has called Him.

And so has He called you. In your Baptism, yes, and in the middle of the night, in the midst of the wilderness, in the face of sin and death, even on the Cross or bent beneath it, He calls you to Himself in Christ Jesus. And just as surely as He has raised that same Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand, so shall He raise you up from death to life, and bring you in and give you a place of peace and rest forever.

If your husband or wife is unpleasant or unfaithful, or if you are still waiting for the Lord to give you a spouse, or if your beloved has died and you are left alone — God will call you out of Egypt into the promised land.

If your children are disobedient, unruly and wild, or if the Lord has not granted you the gift and blessing of children, or if your dear child has died — in the womb or in your arms, in the flower of youth, by accident or illness — God will call you out of Egypt in and with His Son, and He will bring you in, His own dear child and heir.

If your parents are short-tempered, harsh and overbearing, or neglectful and distant — or if your parents have succumbed to the frailties of mortal flesh — if they are sick or dying — of if you have already been orphaned in this vale of tears — the God and Father of our dear Lord Jesus Christ will also call you out of Egypt, out of the shadow of death into His marvelous light.

That is your faith and hope and confidence and strength, as it was St. Joseph’s , and St. Mary’s, and Jesus’ too.

In the Lord Jesus, in particular, uniquely above all, your faith and hope have been perfected: in His flesh and blood, in His life and death and resurrection. He lived by faith in His God and Father, under the curse of sin, under the Cross, even unto death, and God raised Him from the dead. That is more than a good example for you; it is your resurrection from the dead, your life and salvation.

St. Joseph lived by faith and lived in love because He looked for that, and he trusted that the Lord God would bring it about — but the Lord Jesus Christ has actually done it: in His own perfect faith and love. He trusted His Father in heaven, and so He entrusted Himself in peace to His finite, frail mortal parents on earth. He suffered hardship and hurt, violence and death, confident in the One who had promised and sworn to establish His Kingdom and His Throne forever and ever.

He went willingly into Egypt, and He returned to His own place, to the right hand of His Father.

What is true for Him, is true for you by His grace. Those who sought your life to destroy you have all been defeated. Arise in peace, and take your rest in the household and family of your Father. Recline here at the Bosom of the Lord’s own Bride, who is your Holy Mother Church, and feast upon the Meat and Drink of your Good Shepherd-King, who reigns over you in love with His scepter of righteousness. For He has made His Covenant with you forever, and He who is faithful shall not permit you to be destroyed, not now, nor ever.

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

10 March 2011

Where Your Treasure Is, Your Heart Is Home

Home is where the heart is.

So where is your heart at home? Where is it set?

It is really a question of what your treasure is, where you look for it and seek it, and where you would keep it and store it for yourself.

Your treasure is your bliss, your prize, your real wealth. it is what makes you happy — and if it is threatened or taken away, you are at a loss, frightened and sad.

Your treasure is wherever your heart would find its peace and rest, whether it will last for a little while or forever. It is whatever you suppose will satisfy you and make you content; whatever will mark and measure the meaning and purpose of your life, and fulfill your destiny.

As such, your treasure is your god, for good or ill, and whatever your treasure is, so shall you be like it.

So, what is your treasure? Where is your heart?

Perhaps it is your property, your house and home, your souvenirs, collections and investments. Or your family — your spouse and children — or your reputation, your popularity and friends, your respect within the community. Maybe your treasure is power, position, privilege and prestige. Or your possessions and income, your salary and savings. Food and clothing, toys and hobbies, the basics or the best.

What is it that you're proud of? What identifies you? What do you rely upon, and fall back on, and aspire to?

If you treasure and store up stuff, whether coins or castles, clothes or collectibles, know that it will perish — if it is not stolen first. Either way, it does not last, it cannot give you life, and it will not save you.

If you treasure worldly wealth and riches, of whatever currency, paper or plastic, precious metals or digital data, it will come and go in the blink of an eye — or you will die before it has done you any good. Locusts of one sort or another will come and devour it, every penny, every last cent, and there will be nothing left. Neither the biggest bank, nor your mattress, will guard and keep such wealth for you in heaven.

And if you treasure other people as the source and substance of your life and happiness and future well-being, remember that all men die, because all men sin. Even princes are mortal, as are pastors according to their person. Parents and children, spouses and friends also die in their day, and they shall not return to you here.

But not only that: People are fickle and flighty, not only finite but fallible and flawed. Other people are as sinful as you are. If you make of them your god, they will fall far short and fail you. They may lie to you; or break their promises, no matter how sincere; or simply be unable to follow through, no matter how well-intentioned they have been. They may speak with flattering words, while already their thoughts and feelings are turned and moving away from you to elsewhere.

What, though, if everyone thought well of you? What if everyone were impressed with you, and looked up to you, and praised you in every way? What if your reputation among men was sterling silver and unsurpassed in all the world?

Then, dear friend, you would already have your reward.

But not with your Father in heaven.

Enjoy your reputation, your position and prestige, the praise and flattery of the whole world, if you can, for as long as it lasts. But beware that it will not help you in the end, and it will not raise you from the dead. Neither now nor ever will it set you right with God.

If you would have life, and if you would truly live now and forever, repent of your idolatry and return to the Lord, the one true God, your Maker and Redeemer.

Store up treasures for yourself in His heaven, in the secret place of faith, in the hidden place of His Cross, in the inner room of His Church.

That is to fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith, and to be reconciled to God in Him. For He is your righteousness and sanctification, your peace with God and Sabbath rest.

He is your true and lasting treasure.

So, how do you store up Jesus for yourself? What could that possibly mean, and what is it going to look like?

You lay hold of Him where He lays hold of you, that is, by His Ministry of the Gospel. For He gives Himself to you by this way and means, as the One who has given Himself to God for you. Thus, He is your sacrifice, whom God does not despise, and He has also become your priestly food and drink. As He was anointed by the Spirit of God in His human body of flesh and blood, so does He anoint you with His Holy Spirit by the Gospel, by and with His forgiveness of your sins.

His flesh and blood are the Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the world, for He who knew no sin became sin and death and the curse, in order to put sin to death in Himself, and to bring forth the blessing of life through the forgiveness of sins in His Resurrection from the dead.

He, then, has entered into heaven for you, where He has established His place for you with His God and Father, and where He ever lives to make intercession for you as your great and merciful High Priest. Thus, by the power of His indestructible life, in and with His own glorious Body —risen from the dead and never to die again, immortal and imperishable — He is your Treasure, now and forever, whom moth and rust and thief cannot touch, and even death cannot destroy.

He is your anchor behind the veil, within the Holy of Holies eternal in the heavens. He is your life and salvation with God.

And yet, see here, He has also left behind the grain offering of His Body and the drink offering of His Blood, that you may eat and drink and be satisfied and rejoice in Him who loves you. With these most holy and precious gifts, He gives Himself to you, and He pledges Himself to you for all time and eternity. So that, whether you have much or little in this life on earth, you have everything in Him.

Whether men speak well of you or curse you, His Word adorns you with holiness and righteousness, with the glory of His grace and the beauty of His Resurrection from the dead.

Whether you live or die, you are the Lord's, and He is yours, and in Him all things are yours: His Father and His Spirit, His Name, His Sonship, His Life and Salvation in body and soul, and all things in heaven and on earth.

You lack no good thing in Him, nor shall you want for anything, who are seated at His Table to eat the flesh of the Lamb and to drink from the overflowing Chalice of your Good Shepherd.

Such righteousness and life, and peace and rest, can only be given by God, and only by His grace, and can only be received by faith in Christ Jesus. No one else in all of creation can bestow such gifts, nor can your works obtain them.

Yet, this righteousness and life, this peace and rest of Christ are yours. They are for you ,and they are here given and poured out for you, preached into your ears, pressed into your hand and placed upon your lips and tongue, and laid upon your heart by the Spirit through the Gospel.

Here, then, your heart has found its home: in Christ Jesus, with His Father, who is now and forever your Father.

It is with such sure and certain hope, in such confidence and faith, that you pray to Him. Not to be seen or heard by men, but to be heard and answered by your true God and Father in heaven. He will reward you, by His grace, with Christ and all His benefits, hidden under the Mystery of His Cross, yet a greater treasure than the heavens and the earth.

Thus do you fast, knowing that God your Father feeds you. You discipline your mortal flesh, depriving it of passing pleasures, that you might hunger for the Body and Blood of Christ, and so for His Kingdom and His righteousness. You train yourself to regard the Creator and Giver of all things above His whole creation and His many gifts. You curb your appetites, in order to prevent your appetites from controlling and consuming you. For thus you set your heart and mind, your body and soul, against the enticements of the devil, and you rest yourself in the refuge of Christ Jesus.

So are you safe, and so are you also free to love and serve your neighbor with genuine works of compassion and generous gifts of mercy. Trusting your God and Father in Christ for all that you need, and receiving what He provides — not only for yourself, for your family and friends, but also for the stranger at your gate, for the orphans and widows in distress, for the poor and needy who are always at hand — you are generous on the right hand and on the left.

You don't keep score, nor maintain a ledger. You simply love.

In this way you let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

And you also glorify Him, and exercise your faith in Him, when you give alms, and when you pray, and when you fast in faith and love.

So does your Father work His good works in you, even in your body of flesh and blood, in your words and actions.

For He washes you through and through, inside and out, with His mercy. He cleanses you from all your sins and iniquities by His Gospel. He repairs what has been broken, as He has raised Christ Jesus from the dead. And He fills up all that is lacking with His Food and Drink and Spirit.

If you do not find or experience such grace and peace and love and hope in yourself, yet, it is given to you, and it is yours in Christ Jesus.

Do not receive this grace of God in vain, but lay hold of Him who loves you, who lays hold of you by His Word of forgiveness, by His Word of the Cross. For now, yet even now, is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation.

Where you are disciplined by His Love, where you are broken by His Law, where you are crucified by His Cross, there also does He raise you up by His Gospel in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

His death is your repentance, and His Resurrection is your life, your righteousness, and your hope in the face of sin and death.

Do not despair, for He does not grow weary of loving you. He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He does not punish you as your sins deserve, but He daily and richly forgives your sins and cleanses you from all unrighteousness. He is patient with you, and as He has pledged Himself to you, He shall not ever forsake you.

He has opened His heart to you in Christ Jesus, your Savior, and He has come to make His home with you, to abide with you in peace. Here, then, is your home, and your heart's true love and greatest treasure. For here is your God.

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

04 March 2011

Sons, Fathers, Husbands: So It Goes

A young man who honors, respects and cares for his Mother,
will be a husband who respects, loves and cherishes his Wife.

So, too, a young man who dishonors his mother,
dishonors his bride, as well.

And so it goes.

As a husband regards and relates to his Wife,
so do his sons regard and relate to their Mother.

Fathers, as you would have your daughters loved and cared for by their husbands, so teach your sons to love and care for their wives, by loving and caring for your own.

As there is one godly Man, one perfect Son,
who was born of the Woman under the Law,
who honored her and continued in subjection to her,
in order to redeem us all.

As He is the one heavenly Bridegroom
who loves His Bride and has given Himself for her,
that we might become the children of one holy Mother,
the sons and daughters of one true God and dear Father.

So it goes.

As we are loved, regarded and cherished by such a Husband,
treasured and cared for by such a Father in Christ, our Head,
so do we live in a love that we otherwise would not know.

Husbands, Fathers, Sons, rejoice and be glad,
for your sins are forgiven; where there was only death,
Christ has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.

The cycle of sin and death, from father to son, has been broken.

No legacy of abuse or drunkenness,
no patterns of neglect or broken promises,
no history of short tempers and harsh words,
but Christ, the Son of God, He is your life and your salvation.

He is your legacy, your pattern and example,
your history and your future.

Not the fate and destiny of sinful Adam and his wife and children,
but the faith and glory of the Second Adam and His Bride,
with all the children God has given Him,
that is your glory and your hope.

For He has become your Bridegroom, your Savior and your Head:
that is for you, for your parents and your bride,
for your children and your grandchildren,
and He will never leave you nor forsake you.

In Him you have such a Father as He calls you to be in Him.

In Him your Mother is honored, your Wife is cherished,
your sons and daughters are loved and cared for.

In Him you also, by His grace, are the most handsome of men;
not only in your countenance, but in your character,
in your work and in your speaking,
in your laughing and playing.

So it goes.

For He is the Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God,
the Everlasting Father,
and the Prince of Peace.