06 April 2011

Live Like You Were Dying

It was overplayed to the point of being trite, but the Tim McGraw song, “Live Like You Were Dying,” captured and expressed a sentiment that almost anyone could recognize and resonate with. If you knew that you only had a limited amount of time left to live, your perspective on how to use that time and what to do with the rest of your life would be different than usual. Your priorities would be clarified and come into focus, and your hesitation and fear to invest yourself in what’s truly important would go by the wayside.

By God’s grace, the prospect of imminent death might also prompt you to let go of your false gods and idols, none of which can save you — and you can’t take them with you — and to return in repentant faith to the Lord alone above all gods. For He alone forgives you all your sins — all of your regrets, whether things you have done wrong or the good that you have failed to do, the words you wish you could take back, and the words you should have spoken when you had the chance, but you didn’t. The Lord alone forgives your sins, rescues you from every evil and saves you from death and the devil, and grants you life immortal in body and soul.

He does such great things by the way and means of Holy Baptism; which is also to say that He does so by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. And what that means for you is that you live, you really live, first of all by dying. For you enter into the glory of Christ, and you share His divine eternal life with the Father in heaven, by entering with Christ into His suffering and death.

By your Baptism into His death, you are crucified, dead and buried with Christ Jesus, and so also raised with Him to newness of life. Not just once, on the red-letter day of your “one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins,” but every day of your life on earth, until your Baptism is finally completed in the death and resurrection of your body — from this mortal life on earth unto the life everlasting in heaven. Therefore, what your Baptism means, what it signifies and indicates, is that you do now live like you were dying.

Honestly, you know that you are dying, in any case. For a Christian, of all people, that shouldn’t be a matter for avoidance or denial, but a daily call to repentance. It doesn’t take a cancer diagnosis to let you know that this world of sin really is a trail of tears that moves, whether slowly or quickly, to death and the grave. The soul that sins shall die, and all men die because all men sin. It was already true for all of us, and so for you, in Adam, and it continues to be true for all his children. His legacy is one of sin and mortality, of death and a return to dust. From sire to son it is handed down to the close of the age.

How, then, should you live, since you are dying? It may not be today or tomorrow, or next week or next month. Then again, it might be — or maybe not for many years yet. But since you know that you are dying, and especially because you don’t know when, how should you be living?

What difference does it make, really, whether you will live for days or years or decades to come? Time is no more your savior than all the kingdoms of the world. Amass your fortune, build your empire, collect your trophies, do it all, but all of this will crumble into dust, whether before you die, or after, and it will not matter. None of it, nor even all of it together, will forgive your sins, save you from death, or give you life.

So, if time is not your savior, and the whole earth is dying along with you and everyone else, how shall you redeem the time you are given? How shall you spend your days, be they few or many? For these are a gift of God’s grace and a divine stewardship. Your life on earth is not forever, but neither is it a pointless endeavor. The days of sin and death are evil, that much is true enough, but Christ has sanctified all your days by His own life on earth, and He has redeemed them for His God and Father by His sacrificial death and holy bloodshed, and He has made all things brand new by His bodily Resurrection from the dead. His Ascension to the right hand of the Father is the evidence and surety of where your own trail of tears will finally lead. And in the meantime, on the way, between the Red Sea and the Jordan River, you sanctify your days by the Word of God and prayer, and you redeem the time by faith and love.

Faith before God, according to His Word and promise, come what may, and love for your neighbor, even as Christ Jesus loves and serves and cares for you — that is to live like you were dying. And, dying, yet, behold, you live.

You know where and what your life is: It is Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God, who has been conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary in order to become your Brother in the flesh and your Savior; who has been crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification; who is seated at the right hand of His God and Father in the heavenly places — which tells you just how safe and secure your life is. But at the same time, it’s not that He who is your Life is so far away from you, but He is very near to you, even here in the midst of sin and death, in both the deadly desert heat and in the raging waters up to your neck and over your head.

He is with you in the desert as the Living and Life-giving Bread from heaven, and as the Rock from which the water and the blood flow for you, for the cleansing of your body and soul, inside and out, and for the quenching of your deepest thirst. And He is with you in the waters of your Holy Baptism, and in its daily and lifelong significance, in both its dying and its rising.

For have you not heard? When all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized. He has taken His stand with and among the poor miserable sinners, like you, and He has also submitted Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance — for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. Therefore, you also, by your Baptism into Him, are forgiven all your sins.

And He is still with you. He is the new and greater Joshua, whom God has named and anointed with His Spirit to go before the people where Moses could not go, and to lead them into the good land where the lawgiver could not take them. He enters the waters of the Jordan, our great and merciful High Priest in the flesh, the human Ark of the New Covenant in His own Body and Blood, and though He goes in first, ahead of all the people, He also remains firmly stationed in the midst of the water until all the people of God have passed through into Canaan.

Which means that He still remains with you in the waters of your Baptism, precisely as the One who has given Himself for you. His Sacrifice and Sabbath Rest remain for you, in those waters, and His Resurrection, too, and the strength and power of His indestructible life. His life blood still streams from His wounded side to permeate the water with cleansing forgiveness, so that day by day your sins are being washed away, and you are clean.

Upon the twelve foundation stones of His Holy Apostles, those twelve men whom He has chosen, this same Lord Jesus has established His Church on earth, squarely centered — in the midst of the Jordan, as it were — upon the one Baptism that He shares with you and you with Him. And to the ends of the earth He has sent the Twelve, to make disciples from all the nations by the catechesis of His Word to and from this same Holy Baptism. Wherever the water included in His command is combined with His Word, there His Church is planted, and there the children of God are born.

He raises up children from the stones of the Jordan, who are born again by the new birth of water, Word and Spirit, by dying with Him in His death and rising with Him in His Resurrection from the dead. The font is the womb of His Bride, the Church; His Cross and Resurrection are the labor and delivery by which her children are brought forth from death into life, from darkness into light.

That is the power and significance of Baptism: the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.

That, too, is the character and content of your Holy Baptism, and of your Christian faith and life in Christ the Crucified. Daily you are dying with Him. Daily you are rising with Him.

It is not only that your mortal body of flesh and blood is dying and wasting away, on account of sin, from the moment you are conceived in the womb of your mortal mother. But by your Baptism into Christ, and by His Cross, sin and death are put to death in you. Your old Adam, with all your sinful lusts and evil desires, is drowned and destroyed, crucified, strangled and mortally wounded. Your mortality is part of that work of the Law, along with the preaching of repentance, and so also the discipline of your stations in life and your labors of love. The burdens that you bear and the crosses that you carry for your neighbor conform you to the Image of Christ and put old Adam to death in you. The weight of the world, which you sometimes feel that you must carry, and all the demands of your job and family, everything does its part to reduce you to the dust of the ground.

But, dying, yet you live. That is the paradox of the Cross and of Christianity, and that is what makes you and all other disciples of Christ Jesus, the Crucified One, so very alien and strange.

You live like you were dying, because, not only are you dying every day and all the time, but in truth you have already died in and with Christ Jesus — and your life is safely hidden with Him in God. You truly have nothing to fear. You have nothing to lose, but neither do you have need of anything, because Christ is yours, and you are His, and that remains come hell or high water against you. Since God is for you, and He is with you, both now and forever, it does not matter who or what may be set against you.

To be sure, people and all sorts of circumstances can hurt you and cause you all manner of pain. You have your ups and downs, your good days and bad, happiness here and hardship there. Your death from this mortal life on earth may be swift and sudden or slow and torturous. But none of this can do you any lasting harm. None of it touches your life, your true and lasting life, in Christ. For your Baptism saves you, now and forever. It does not spare you the pains of life under the Cross in this fallen world — indeed, it lays the Cross upon you, marking your mind and heart, your body and soul — but it brings you through it into the Resurrection.

That is the glorious freedom of the baptized. That is your freedom as a son of God in Christ. And that is why you die like you are living — because you are alive and well with Christ in God, and you live all your days unto God, even while your mortal flesh is wasting away, returning to dust.

You’re free to do your job and do what’s right, whether you are praised or persecuted for it. You are free to turn the other cheek, and to forgive those who trespass against you. You are free to pour yourself out and spend yourself in love for your neighbor; to care for your wife and give yourself for her; to love and submit to your husband; to serve your children; to honor and obey your parents. You are free to sacrifice and give up your own wants and desires, but also free to enjoy the good gifts that God gives you.

Your perspective and priorities are clarified by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, which you share by your Baptism into Him. You know what’s important, what really matters, and where and how to invest yourself, your time, treasures and talents, your energies and efforts.

You know how to receive and use God’s good creation rightly — in faith and love — neither despising nor idolizing the things of this temporal life. Though all of it is dying, and you yourself are dying, you know that Christ who died has risen, never to die again, and that you who live in Him shall live forever, even though you die.

Baptized into Christ Jesus, the Christian fears the grave as little as his bed. It is not the end of your life, but rest from your labors. Already now you have both peace and rest, whether waking or sleeping, working or playing, because the Lord Jesus has reconciled you to God through His atoning sacrifice, by His forgiveness of all your sins, and in His Resurrection from the dead.

You live by His dying, and you die unto His living, evermore.

It is not by your knowledge of the truth, nor by your efforts to live accordingly, but by the Word and work of God in Christ Jesus for you. He has baptized you, Himself, by His grace, as surely as He was baptized for you. Which means that everything of His, He has also given to you and made your very own. Thus, not only His Cross, but also His Resurrection is yours. And His Spirit and His Sonship, His Father and His Name; all of these are yours.

Hence you are a Christian, anointed by the Spirit of Christ Jesus, a true child of God. And the Father’s Word to you is that very Word which He has spoken to the Lord Jesus, which you have heard again this evening: “You are My beloved Son, and in you I am well-pleased.” That is a sure and certain Word, as solid as Christ Himself is true, which brings you through death into life, through the Jordan into the promised land of heaven forever.

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

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