29 October 2011

The Life of Christ in the Body

Here is the Life to which the Lord your God has called you:

First of all, to hear and receive the Word of God; to believe and confess His Word; to pray, and to live by His Word: in faith and love. For you have one Teacher, from whom you receive the Word and the Wisdom of God. Listen to Him, and learn from Him. And as you have heard, so also speak and pray His Word; because it is by His grace that you live, through faith in His Word.

Hear and heed His Word while you have this chance, while it is near and spoken to you; lest He remove it from you, and leave you with nothing but darkness and silence, and death and despair.

Be not only a hearer of His Word, but trust in His Word, and so also do and observe what He has commanded. Work and labor, faithfully and righteously, within your particular vocation and place in life. Submit to the authorities that He has placed over you, as unto Him, according to His Word. And be a faithful “father,” as it were, in exercising whatever authority you have been given within your own calling, under the One Father in heaven by whom all fatherhood on earth is named.

Do not serve for the love of money, nor to make a name for yourself, to be seen and acknowledged by other people. But, rather, work and labor in the fear of the Lord, in faith toward Him, and in love for your neighbor, in harmony with God’s Word. (Always, your reference point is His Word.)

As He has named you with His Name, and has given you Himself and all things by His grace, so rely on Him for all that you need, and receive His good and perfect gifts in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the beloved Son. And, so also, love and serve your brothers and sisters in the same Lord, Jesus Christ, as being the children of one and the same God and Father in heaven.

Discipline yourself and your flesh, and “possess your own vessel” (that is, your body), in holiness and honor. For as your body also is redeemed and sanctified by Christ — who bore all your sins in His Body on the Cross, and who was raised bodily from the dead for your justification — and as your body has been cleansed, along with your soul, by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism; and as your body is fed, along with your soul, with the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion; and as your body shall be resurrected at the last, and glorified forever — so, too, the life that you live in the body, even here and now, really matters. It makes a difference.

Your life in the body matters, and makes a difference, whether you live in faith and love, unto the righteousness and holiness of Christ — or in laziness, lust, and licentiousness, unto death. For as faith lays hold of life in Christ, so does sin lay hold of death (because it departs from Christ).

Your righteousness and life in Christ Jesus are free and clear, by His grace alone, no doubt; that is sure and certain. But that is not an excuse or permission for laziness or licentiousness. Rather, it is a cause for holiness in word and deed. Whereas good works do not lead the way into heaven, nor can they ever get you there, they do follow after faith in Christ.

Good works do not make the saint; but good works do follow after the saints, who live by faith in Christ Jesus. And their good works of love glorify the Name of their God and Father in heaven.

So, then, beloved of the Lord, do not be lazy — so that others do not have to make up your slack and serve you — but work hard to do your job, to provide for your family, and to care for others.

Give yourself over to good works, as the Lord has given you to do within your office and station in life. Not only is this good and right, but it focuses your time, attention, and energy on loving your neighbor, and giving life to your neighbor, as the Lord loves you and gives you life by the Word and work of His Gospel.

Give yourself over to such good works of love, rather than leaving your heart and mind and eyes to wander in lust; and do not give yourself over to lust, which, left unchecked and undisciplined, leads to bodily impurity and to sins against your neighbor (and against your neighbor’s spouse).

If you do not struggle with sexual temptations, praise God for that, but still be on your guard against the covetous lust of whatever sort does rage within your members, whether it be for money or fame, for music or sports, for popularity or power, or for whatever else it might be.

Do not kid yourself: What you do with your body matters. When you set your heart and mind upon that which is contrary to the Word of God — to desire what He has not given to you — and you turn your eyes to gaze upon it, and move your feet toward it, and set your hand upon it, then your covetous lust has conceived and given birth to sin, and your sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death. Not only does it lead to the death of your body, but the pursuit of your sinful passions and impurity is deadly to your spiritual life and health, as well.

But the Lord is the Avenger in all these things. He avenges your neighbor against your sins, to be sure, but He also avenges you against the assaults and accusations of the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh. As your body participates in your sin, so does the Lord discipline your body, not only to curb and temper your wickedness and evil, but also to alert you to the danger, as part of His call to repentance. For it is also the case that, along with His discipline of your mortal flesh, He calls and sends His true Prophets to preach repentance, unto the forgiveness of sins in His Name.

He does not chase you down and chastise you in order to castigate and shame you, but to save you from your sin and death, and to bring you to Himself in love, into His life and light and salvation. In short, He humbles you in order to exalt you. But the one who exalts himself, He will humble.

Be humbled, then, before both God and man. Be humbled before the Lord your God, to fear, love and trust in Him. Rely upon His Word and promises, rather than trying to defend and protect, to promote and exalt yourself. And as you are loved by Him, and served by Him, and cared for by His grace, so humble yourself before your neighbor: Love and serve your neighbor in the Lord.

Do not worry about yourself, but follow Christ Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith. Follow Him by listening to Him, by hearing and heeding His Word and the preaching of it. Trust His Word, and live according to it. And follow His example. For He is your Leader — already in your life in the body here on earth, and so also through death and the grave into the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting in heaven. He leads not only by His Word, but also by His example.

And yet, for all of that, He is far more than just a good example. In His true divine greatness and almighty strength, He has become your Servant. He has come down from heaven to serve you, and to save you, at the cost of His own body and life. He has taken all your sin, all your suffering and sorrow, all your mortality and death upon Himself. And He has humbled Himself, even unto death upon the Cross. He has thereby suffered all your punishment, and He has given His life and shed His blood to atone for all your sins.

In this you see His faith and love. He did not talk the talk without walking the walk. He did not bind the heavy burden of the Law upon your shoulders, but He took its full back-breaking load upon Himself and bore it for you. He trusted His Father, and He submitted Himself in absolute obedience to the Word and will of His Father. In such faith, He gave Himself up for you.

And God the Father raised Him up again, and highly exalted Him, and glorified Him — also in His Body (of flesh and blood like yours!) — and has seated Him at His right hand for all eternity.

He is your merciful and great High Priest, and He (Himself) is your righteousness and holiness. His Cross and Resurrection are your repentance, by which you are now called and carried out of sin and death into faith and life — out of the grave, to be seated with Him in the heavenly places. Just as your Holy Baptism has given to you, and as it signifies and works in you every day of your life: namely, that you die to sin, and that you rise with Christ to live in Him by grace through faith.

This repentance and forgiveness, unto life and salvation, are not thwarted, undone or ended by your death, but they are finally completed in your bodily death from this vale of tears, and are fully realized in the resurrection of your body unto the life everlasting (of body and soul) in heaven.

That is the sure and certain hope in which you live and work and labor — and in which you are now given to remember the faithful departed, who are surely among the great cloud of witnesses with which you are surrounded. For as they live and abide in the Body of Christ, cleansed by His Blood and so clothed in His Righteousness forever and ever, so are you also one Holy Communion with them in the Body and Blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ. So are you cleansed and clothed by Him, like a Bride made beautiful for her Groom. And so do you also live and abide in Him, both now and forever.

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

Jesus Is a Friend of Yours

There is the Risk of love and friendship, and the Cost: when you give yourself to and for another person. Not only do you expend yourself, but you are open and vulnerable to being hurt (in any number of different ways).

To make yourself weak in this way — in love and friendship — is actually an exercise and demonstration of real strength; which does not seek its own protection and advantage, but extends itself to serve and protect and do good to others: even at great cost, and sometimes even without any reciprocity.

The Lord Jesus has exercised the greatest strength, in the greatest Love, by giving Himself for you, and laying down His life for you. He has chosen to do so in love, and He has loved you in this way, not because you were His friend — but while you were His enemy! — in order to befriend you; or, rather, to befriend you precisely by and with and in this great love for you, unto His death upon the Cross.

He has paid this Cost to love you and to be your Friend. And He has taken this Risk to open Himself to you, to reveal and give Himself to you, and to make Himself vulnerable.

Thus, for the sake of His great love, and because of His great love — for you and all the world — He was hated and persecuted and put to death. And by His own friends on earth, He was betrayed, abandoned, denied, and doubted.

You also have tasted the risks and the costs of love and friendship, and, once bitten, twice shy, it is tempting to flee from your neighbors; to retreat into yourself; to guard and protect yourself, by all means, and at all costs, from everyone else.

But the Lord Jesus has chosen you — in love — He has called you to Himself, and He has appointed you, to go and bear good fruits in His Name. Such good fruits are the fruits of His Cross, and they are the fruits of love: that you should love one another, as Jesus loves you.

He has befriended you. You, now, be a friend of His. Live as He lives. Love as He loves.

That means bearing the Cost — and the Cross — of genuine friendship for your neighbor; and, really, more than friendship. It means a divine love, even for those who hate you and persecute you. So that you sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against you.

You take the Risk of loving and serving and caring for your neighbor. You make yourself vulnerable and weak. You open yourself to hurt and rejection. All for the sake of the Love of God in Christ Jesus, your Lord: your Friend.

That is what the Holy Apostles did — St. Simon and St. Jude, and the other Apostles. That is what they did, and that is how they lived, in going forth to bear the good fruits of the Cross according to their calling and appointment as preachers of Christ; like the Old Testament Prophets before them!

It was certainly a Risk to be identified as a friend of Jesus. But, loving Him, and loving the world for which He died, they preached faithfully in His Name; for which they, too, like Him, were hated, and persecuted, and put to death.

Was it worth the Risk, and worth the Cost? Indeed, it was.

Their love was not pointless or meaningless, nor was their friendship with Jesus foolish.

For, on the one hand, as the Lord Jesus had chosen them in love, called them to Himself, befriended them, and named them with His own Name, so did He bring them through death into life with Himself.

And, on the other hand, their Ministry of the Gospel, though met with such hostility and violence, also did bear the good fruits of the Cross; so that the Church grew and increased and spread. Those who once were far off were called to the friendship of Christ, and they were born again to a new and living hope.

So also have you been called and born again to that same hope: in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

That is the hope in which you take the Risk and pay the Cost of love: for one another, for your family and friends, for your fellow Christians and for your neighbors in the world, and even for those who hurt you and take advantage of you.

The Church into which you have been called — the household and family of God, the circle of Jesus’ friends! — the Temple and City of God, on earth as it is in heaven — the Church is not a “safe haven” in the sense that here you are free to continue in sin, to avoid the costs and risks of love and friendship, and to set aside the Cross of Christ.

But the Church, which is the Body of Christ the Crucified, is a refuge of repentance, in which you are saved from sin, and you are set free to bear the Cross in love.

You have heard His Commandment: that you love one another.

That is the life to which He has appointed you.

He knows the Risks. He knows the Cost. He knows the hurts and heartaches. He knows the disappointments and deep sorrows.

But, just as He has all things from His Father, so does He give Himself and His Life to you.

He knows the Risks and the Costs, because He has borne them for you — and God has raised Him from the dead. So does He raise you, also, in Himself.

Again, the Church is not a “robber’s den,” where you run away to hide out from the Lord and from your neighbor. But, it is a place of peace and rest and safety for those whom the Lord has befriended in love — for you, who are His friend by the Gospel.

Here, all your sins are freely and fully forgiven. Here, you are safe, and you are loved. Here, you are fed with the good fruits of the Cross. Here, you are given the life of your dear Lord Jesus. And though you do not yet see Him — but you love Him and believe in Him (by grace through faith in His Word) — what is now revealed to you by the Gospel, under the Cross, shall be openly revealed in the Glory of His Resurrection at the last, when your faith and life in Christ Jesus will be shown to be more precious than gold.

As it was for St. Simon and St. Jude, so it is for you, and so shall it be — for you and all the faithful — forever and ever: In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

22 October 2011

All You Need Is Love

You are to be holy, as the Lord your God is holy. But, whereas He is holy in Himself, by nature, you are holy in Him, by His grace, sanctified by His Word and Spirit. Therefore, in calling you to such holiness, to be holy in Him, He calls you to share His own divine Life, and to rest in His Love. He calls you to live your life in Him, in harmony and peace; to be loved by Him, and so to love: To love the Lord your God above all things, and your neighbor as yourself, as you are loved.

To love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, is to entrust and submit all your thoughts and feelings, yourself and your entire life to Him; so that all your words and actions are governed by His Word, and your every breath glorifies His Name.

And to love your neighbor as yourself, is to love and serve your neighbor, and to give life to your neighbor, by and with and for the Love of God. In short, you love your neighbor as the Lord your God loves you. Receiving and sharing His love, you manifest His holiness in your love for others.

When you fear, love and trust in the one true God above all things, you will not be afraid of anything else in heaven or on earth, and you will not be afraid to give yourself in loving service to your neighbor. Rather, you will delight to be like God in such love, and, as such, you will desire to know and to follow His good and acceptable will in all things: which is summarized in love.

What is natural for God, is for you by grace alone. Which is to say that you do not rely upon your own wisdom, reason or strength to know what love is, or to know the way of love. But you hear and heed the Word of God, and you rely upon His Word; as even Christ Jesus, our Lord Himself, as true Man, relied upon and so confessed the Holy Scriptures (in resisting every temptation, and in answering all questions). For His Word sanctifies all things, by and with His Holy Spirit, by creating all things, giving life to all the living, and establishing what is good and right.

The holiness of God, and so also the holiness of His people, is rooted in the confidence of God and expressed in the charity of God. What does this mean? The Lord our God — the Holy Trinity — He alone is fully alive, fully complete, fully realized and fully sufficient in Himself. He alone is Love; which is to say, not only that He is loving, as an attribute or attitude, but that He is Love in Himself, in His very Being and Identity, in the Love of the Father for the Son in the Holy Spirit.

You have such confidence and charity, and such holiness of God, not from within yourself, but from outside of yourself — from the Holy Triune God, who reveals and gives Himself to you, for the sake of His divine and holy Love, that is, for His own sake, because of who and what He is.

Because it is by and with His Word that God reveals and gives Himself to you — by the preaching of His Prophets and Apostles, and above all by the Person of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus — and because it is by and with His Word that He names you with His Name, and sanctifies His Name in you by the generous outpouring of His Spirit through Jesus Christ, our Savior — so it is that your holiness, as a child of God, depends entirely upon His Word. That is your confidence, your sure and certain hope, which is demonstrated and confessed in a godly life of holy love.

Within your own office and station in life, it is for you as it was for the holy Apostles, who trusted the Word of the Lord, and so preached that Word faithfully, even unto death: not lording it over those to whom they were sent, but loving them, and caring for them gently, with the tenderness of a mother for her babies, and with the kindness of a strong father for his dear children. They gave to the Church, not only the Gospel of Word and Sacrament in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus, but their own bodies and their very lives.

You are called to live the same way in your own place.

To be sure, it is precisely in such faith and love that many of you have made the promises that were asked of you in the Rite of Confirmation, as four of our catechumens will pledge before God and His Church this morning. Such serious promises and solemn pledges are actually a matter of life and death — for confirmands commit themselves to suffer all, even death, before they would ever forsake the Word and faith of God. But in this respect, they repeat the commitments, the serious promises and solemn pledges of Holy Baptism, as the Rite of Confirmation makes clear by echoing the Rite of Holy Baptism. Already as an infant (the tender age when most of you were baptized) your Baptism placed you on the front lines of a fierce battle, armed and armored with nothing else — and nothing less — than the Word and Spirit of God. That is where and how you now stand.

Thus, you have pledged to find your life in the Holy Triune God, in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, in His Church and Ministry of the Gospel, in His Holy Word and Sacraments. And, correspondingly, you have renounced and rejected the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh of the old Adam, with all his lusts and desires. You have died to all that, and you live unto God alone.

So, what does all of this look like, practically speaking? What are you supposed to do and say, and how are you supposed to live? If your Holy Baptism and the Rite of Confirmation are more than just a couple of certificates, whether on your wall, in a lock box, or shoved into a pile in the closet, what does any of this mean for you? Seriously, what difference does it make?

The Catechism teaches you, in much the same way that Leviticus and the entire Law of Moses taught God’s people in the Old Testament. That is why pastors, who love the dear people of God entrusted to their care, require their catechumens to memorize the Catechism: to learn it by heart, and firmly to implant its faithful confession of the Holy Scriptures into your grey cells, especially while they are young and pliable enough to be formed and molded by that pattern of sound words.

The Catechism is actually a prayer book, and a manual for Christian faith and life. And even for those who have committed the entire thing to memory — and even for those who still remember it perfectly — it is not a textbook to be put away and forgotten. Because it confesses the Word of the Lord, it opens your lips to show forth His praise; it is a shield and buckler against the assaults and accusations of the devil; and it is a lamp to your feet and a light upon your path.

The Catechism teaches you what love for God and for the neighbor does and says, how it looks, and how it sounds. It teaches you to fear, love and trust in God above all things, by teaching you to pray and confess, to call upon the Name of the Lord, to praise and give thanks to Him. It points you to the preaching of God’s Word, and teaches you to hold it sacred, to gladly hear and learn it. It teaches you to remember your Baptism rightly, to examine yourself and confess your sins, so as to avail yourself of Holy Absolution, and to hunger and thirst for the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Catechism teaches you to consider your particular place in life according to the universal rule of the Ten Commandments, not only to show you what sins you should confess before the pastor, but so also to know how you are to love those neighbors whom God has placed in relation to you. It informs your station in life, and instructs you in the duties and responsibilities of your office, with clear passages of Holy Scripture. Thus you know what is pleasing to God, what is good for your neighbor, and what is given to you in faith and love.

You are taught that love, which is the fulfilling of the Law, does no harm to the neighbor. And then you are also taught that love does not merely refrain from doing harm, but actively strives to help and serve, to protect and defend, to support and strengthen the neighbor in his body and life, in his family, his property, his name and reputation. You are taught, not only to honor and obey your parents and other authorities, but to love and to cherish them, and gladly to submit to their governance, as to the Lord. And you are taught, not only to avoid committing adultery with your neighbor’s spouse, but fully to invest yourself, your time and your energy, your heart, mind and body, in the self-sacrificing service and loving care of your own God-given wife or husband.

So this is what your holiness as a child of God looks like. This is how faith and love are to live. There’s no need to go searching for anything more; there’s more than enough here to keep you busy, and you have no cause to complain that you are bored, or that you have nothing to do.

Honestly, the real and compelling question is: How often do you live and act, and speak and think otherwise than you are taught by the Word and Spirit of God? How often do you expect the Lord your God to stand in line behind your host of other gods and idols — your work and your play, your hobbies and other interests, your money, your music and sports and other entertainments? How often do you neglect your neighbor, in favor of yourself, even when the neighbor in question is your own spouse or child, your own dear father or mother, your own dear brother or sister, or your fellow Christian? How often do you trust your own wisdom over and above God’s Word?

Truth be told, if you examine yourself rightly, according to the Word of God, then you also will be silenced by the Law — no less so than the Scribes and Pharisees, the Sadduccees and Lawyers, who were unable to answer Jesus anything, and who did not dare ask Him any other questions.

For the Law of God gives you nothing else to say but a confession of your sins. Indeed, it exposes not only your ignorance and weakness, and not only your sins and failings — what you have done wrong, and what you have failed to do right — but also your inability to do any better on your own; not only your failure, but your impotence to fear, love and trust in God. You cannot do it.

Yet, there is another Word of God — the Gospel of Christ Jesus — which gives to you a voice, a confession and a prayer. This Word of the Gospel gives you life, and it sanctifies you by the Spirit of God, through the forgiveness of all your sins. More important and decisive than the promises and pledges that you made at your Baptism, this Word of the Gospel — and all the promises that God made and gave to you in the washing of the water with His Word in your Baptism — works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives you eternal life and salvation.

Because great King David’s Lord and God has, indeed, also become King David’s Son, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and He has been anointed in His human flesh and blood by the Spirit of God, to be the Christ, your Savior and your King. What He has given Himself to do in His Baptism — the serious promises and solemn pledges that He made before God and man, by submitting Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance in the waters of the Jordan River — He has fully accomplished in faith and love, for you and for all, by His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross.

So has He loved His God and Father with all His heart, with all His soul, and with all His mind; with all His strength, with His whole body and life, with His holy and precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death. He has given Himself fully, and without any reservation, in the fear, love and trust of His Father above all things, and in divine and holy love for you: for each and every one of you, and for all people everywhere, for all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.

So has He fulfilled and perfected all the Law and the Prophets — not only in your stead and on your behalf, but for you, and for your benefit — to save you, and to sanctify you, and to give you life with God forever in Himself. He has done you no harm, but He helps and supports you in every way, in both body and soul, in this life on earth, and for the life everlasting in heaven. He takes nothing but your sin and death from you, whereas He gives you Himself, His Righteousness and Peace, His Innocence and Blessedness, His Holy Spirit and His divine Sonship, His own dear Father to be your God and Father, and all the wealth and riches of His eternal Kingdom. He does not divorce you, but forgives your unfaithfulness, woos you to Himself in tender peace, cleanses you of every blemish, spot and wrinkle, and cherishes you as His own beloved Bride. He does not testify against you, but with His Gospel He defends you, speaks well of you, and justifies you.

And as the great God and Father of this dear Lord Jesus Christ has highly exalted Him, and has raised Him from the dead, and has given Him the Name above every name, and has seated Him at His Right Hand forevermore — in the same human flesh and blood that He received from His Mother Mary — so has the same God and Father raised you up from death to life, and given you the Name of Christ Jesus in your Holy Baptism, and seated you with Him in the heavenly places. That is where your life is safely hidden — with Christ in God — even as you go about living your life on earth, by His grace, through faith in His Gospel.

This is a faithful saying, and it is most certainly true. For the surety and certainty of your faith and life are not found in yourself, nor in your frail mortal flesh, but they are fixed for you, and secure, in the crucified, risen and ascended body of Christ — who is not far away from you, but He is here for you in His Church on earth, in His Ministry of the Gospel, in the preaching of His Word, in the Holy Absolution of all your sins, and in the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood.

So do you also, in the Spirit, call Him “Lord.” Which is to pray and confess that He has entered in to save you, to ransom and redeem you, to set you free from the bondage of Satan, sin and death, and to bring you into His glorious Kingdom. He is not ashamed to call you His brother, His sister, His friend, but all that belongs to Him, He freely gives to you and shares with you forever. Sit here, then, at His Table, and receive from His right hand the pledge of His undying love — the gift of His indestructible life — while He puts all your enemies, your sin and death, beneath His feet.

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

15 October 2011

Render to God the Things That Are God's

You have been created by the Holy Triune God — you are made in His Image and Likeness — to live in His Way, by His Word, according to His Will, in Spirit and in Truth. You have been given life, in order to live in harmony and peace with Him, by His grace, through faith in His Word. And you are called to be like Him in relation to His creation — to live in love toward your neighbor, and to grant life unto others — within the particular place where the Lord your God has put you.

As you thus live by His creative Word, by His divine grace and in His holy love, you are confident and content with who you are and what you have; you are compassionate and charitable toward those who live around you; and, because you are well cared for, you likewise care for others.

By such faith and love — for that is what your confidence and charity as a Christian are — you render your whole body and life as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You glorify His holy Name — the very Name which He has given to you in your Baptism: inscribed upon your forehead and heart, your body and soul, with the Cross of Christ.

In offering such a sacrifice (not of propitiation for your sins, but of thanksgiving for God’s grace), you do not lose your life, but you find your entire life in the Lord, your God.

Thus having your life in Him, you fear, love and trust in Him above all things. You listen to His Word, and you call upon His Name in peace and hope and joy. You love your neighbor as yourself — cherishing your own spouse, and not coveting your neighbor’s wife or husband — not hurting your neighbor, nor robbing him or bad-mouthing him, but helping and protecting him, speaking well of him, and serving him, however you can. And you honor your parents and other authorities, all the way up to governors, kings, and Caesar himself: you obey the laws of the land, you pay your taxes, and you pray for the powers that be (who are God’s ministers, appointed for your good).

In this way, also — that is to say, in rendering to Caesar what God has given and assigned to Caesar — you render yourself, your body and life, to God the Lord, your Creator and Redeemer.

For all things are His, and it is by Him, and from Him, and for Him, and unto Him that you live.

There is no either-or between God and Caesar: You honor Caesar under God, until such a time when Caesar demands that you sin against God, and then you must obey God rather than Caesar at that point. There is no dividing of your allegiance between God and man, but your obedience belongs entirely to God, also in submitting to those authorities whom He has placed over you.

So, too, where He has given you authority over others, you are to use that authority in the fear, love, and trust of Him who is the Author of all things. Therefore, children, obey your parents in the Lord. And, parents, love and serve and care for your children, as the Lord so loves and serves and cares for you. Feed and clothe and shelter them, sure, but, above all, teach them His Word.

But all of this requires the crucifixion of the old Adam in you, who would have you become a god unto yourself: not receiving all things and living by the grace of the one true God, but grasping and taking and striving and contesting for that which you would call your own.

The Lord shows no partiality, but, speaking the truth in love, He puts to death that sin and selfish-ness in you. He does so, not with any malice or hypocrisy, nor to trap and destroy you, but that you might know the Way of God, which is the way of life instead of death.

He brings you under His authority — rather than leaving you to your own self-governing autonomy — not to boss you around, but to bestow His Life upon you, and to glorify His Name in you.

You resent and rebel against the Word and work and authority of God, because you fear that you are being robbed. It seems as though you are losing yourself, and your freedom, and everything that is yours and is so precious to you. In the Cross you perceive only punishment and death, instead of forgiveness and life. In repentance you feel only humility and grief, embarrassment and shame, instead of rescue, redemption, and righteousness.

It is honestly not possible for you to see or understand the Cross and the authority of God, the Lord, until He has put you to death by that Cross and raised you to newness of life by the authority of Christ Jesus: as He has, in fact, done for you in Holy Baptism, and as He continues to do for you (as also for Ingrid and Mazzy), so faithfully and so patiently, throughout your life on earth, by the ongoing catechesis of His Word, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins.

He crucifies you, puts you to death and buries you, in order to give you a new birth and to make you His own child. He calls for your allegiance in all things, that you may live under Him in His Kingdom, and so that He Himself, and all that He has, may be yours by His grace.

Thus, you have and you live your life before God as a little child. And becoming an adult is not about getting an independent life for yourself, but it is properly an exercise of wisdom, reason and strength for others: to love and serve and give life to your neighbor in the Name of the Lord.

You have been (and you are) brought into this Way of Life in God, in Spirit and in Truth, by the Way of Christ, by His Incarnation, by His Body and Life, His flesh and blood, His faith and love, His Cross and Resurrection. For He is the Image and Likeness of God — true God and true Man, united in His one Person — the Son of the Father from all eternity, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary — the Word of God made Flesh — the Bearer of the Spirit in His Body.

And as God the Father has glorified this incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, in His Baptism, so has He glorified His Father’s Name by His holy Cross and Passion; whereon was written the Inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

He there submitted Himself to the authority of Caesar — and to Caesar’s governor, Pontius Pilate — in order to render Himself — in faith and love — unto God, His dear Father in heaven.

In this way, by His sacrifice on the Cross, the one true God is perfectly revealed in this true Man, and harmony and peace between God and man are perfectly realized. Faith and love are perfectly united, and real life is accomplished and established — for you and for all — in the midst of death.

For as Christ Jesus, your Savior, rendered Himself unto God (for you), so did God the Father raise this same Jesus from the dead, and bring Him to Himself, and exalt Him at His right hand.

Therefore, not simply Pilate, but God the Father Almighty has named this Jesus of Nazareth to be the King, not only of the Jews, but of the heavens and the earth.

As the true Man of God, the Lord Jesus uses His authority to love and to serve, to care for you, and to give you life. As He has already payed the poll-tax for you and for all, with His own Body and Life, the denarius He grants to you — the coin of His realm — is forgiveness. Such forgiveness you receive freely from Him, and with such forgiveness you love and serve each other in peace.

There’s an economic policy that you can live with!

Do not be amazed, and do not turn away and leave Him. This dear Lord and King, Christ Jesus, speaks the truth to you in love. He shows no favoritism, but He has given Himself for all, so that all the world has been redeemed and reconciled to God in Him.

In Him is your life, your light and your salvation. In Him you are safe and secure in body and soul. In Him you are rendered to God in peace; not for death, but for life, both now and forevermore.

It is in that confidence and certainty that He tells you to give Caesar his due: to honor your parents and other authorities; to serve and obey them, to love and cherish them.

It is in the same confidence and certainty that He calls you to live by faith — which is really to entrust your whole body and life unto God, who is your own dear Father in Christ Jesus — to fear, love and trust in Him above all things.

And it is by the sure compassion and certain charity of His own Cross — in the confidence of His Resurrection from the dead — that He grants you this very faith and life, this love and trust in Him, with His own Body and Blood, and with His forgiveness of all your sins.

Come here and see. Let me show you, and consider whose likeness and inscription this bread and wine shall bear: not outwardly, but inwardly, hidden from your sight, but not from your ears. Listen and behold — for the Son of God declares, and His Word makes it so, “This is My Body, given for you. This is My Blood, poured out for you. Take, eat. Drink of it, all of you, for the forgiveness of sins.” These are for you, because you are God’s own dear child.

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

09 October 2011

The Wedding Banquet of the Royal Son

On this Mountain — in the midst of this city, His new Jerusalem — the Lord of hosts, Yahweh Sabaoth, has prepared a Wedding Banquet: a great Feast to the glory of His Son and for His Bride. Not by the flesh and blood of bulls and goats, nor sheep and oxen, but by the sacrifice of the same beloved and only-begotten Son, who loved His Bride and gave Himself for her, even unto death.

By His death, He has swallowed up death forever; and in His Resurrection, He has been glorified, so that His beloved Bride might also be saved and glorified in Him.

This is the glory of the Bridegroom, indeed, that He lays down His life for His Wife, and that He also feeds and nurtures her, and glorifies her with His whole body and life.

Whereas earthly husbands often hesitate and fail to give themselves so completely to and for their wives, for fear they will lose themselves and be lost, the Son of God has spent Himself entirely for His Church, and He gives Himself to her without fail, in the confidence of His Father — who raises Him from the dead, and glorifies Him, and gives life to both Him and His holy Bride.

This is the Holy Gospel, and, by this Gospel, the Lord calls and invites people from all nations to be His disciples: to be united with Him and joined to His Bride, the Church — to join the wedding party — and so to eat His Feast. For it is to His disciples that our Lord Jesus Christ gives His Body to eat and pours out His Blood to drink.

So has He called you to be His disciple, and so to feast both with Him and upon Him in this Supper. He calls you by the ongoing catechesis of His Word, the Law and the Gospel, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins. Just as He has called you to Himself, and wed you to Himself, by the way and the means of your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection. For your Holy Baptism is the fount and source, the heart and center of your daily and lifelong repentance and the forgiveness of sins, whereby you are crucified with Him and raised up with Him to newness of life, and you are clothed in Him and His righteousness.

These are your wedding clothes, by which alone you are worthily attired to enter the wedding hall and to eat the wedding feast: Not by any “goodness” of your own, but entirely by the grace of God.

You are a guest of the King: do not despise or reject His hospitality. Rather, just as the Father of the Bride adorns His daughter to be given to her Groom, and as the Husband adorns His Wife with His own honor and glory, so are you attired and adorned by the Father and the Son. You do not adorn yourself, but as you are dressed by and with Christ in your Holy Baptism, so are you truly worthy and well-prepared to eat and drink His Supper, His Body and His Blood.

To wear these wedding clothes — which you have received in Holy Baptism — is to live by this grace of God, through faith in His Gospel, instead of relying on yourself and your own resources.

It is to pray in faith and confidence, to trust your God and Father in Christ, and to receive from His hand whatever He provides, whether much or little — living under the Cross, in the hope of the Resurrection — and thus to be content and satisfied in any and all circumstances.

To wear the wedding clothes provided for the Feast is likewise to do good works of love within your vocation — to glorify the Bridegroom and the King through your behavior — and to serve His other guests, your neighbors, with your words and actions — as a kind of outward vesture.

As a woman honors her husband and glorifies his name — which he has given to her and shares with her — by receiving and using whatever he provides to care for their own home and family, and to share hospitality with others. For a woman who knows herself to be loved by her husband, is able to love her family, friends and neighbors generously and well. And a woman who is fed and clothed and sheltered by her husband, is likewise able to feed and clothe and shelter her dear children and many others, too. A woman who is thus adorned by her husband, need not adorn herself, but she is eager and well able to adorn others with mercy and kindness and tender care.

So do you also honor and glorify your Royal Bridegroom with reverent humility, and with artistic beauty, with gracious conduct, gentle words, and godly piety. As your God-given abilities permit, according to His all-sufficient providence, you praise and give thanks to Him, you confess His faithfulness and magnify His loving-kindness, and you declare yourself to be His very own.

Not as though to clothe yourself; nor to justify yourself; nor to make a name for yourself; nor to make yourself worthy — but in the strength of Christ, your Savior; in the abundant love of your heavenly Bridegroom; in the peace of His Gospel of forgiveness; in the confidence that death has been defeated by His death, and that heaven has been opened to you in His Resurrection from the dead; in the sure and certain hope that Life is found and freely granted forever in Him.

Those who live by such faith in the Gospel are fully covered by the perfect righteousness of Christ. From head to toe, they are beautiful with His royal beauty, and glorious with His divine glory.

By striking contrast, as you have heard from His parable this morning, those who reject His Wedding Banquet will be condemned: their homes and their cities, their businesses, their fields and cattle will be utterly destroyed, and they will be left with nothing but punishment.

And in a similar fashion, those who attempt to enter and to eat the Feast by their own merits and worthiness — that is to say, those who refuse to wear the wedding clothes provided by the royal Host, but presume to wear their own attire (whether it be a tux or a t-shirt and jeans) — they will be cast out of the Kingdom forever, into the darkness of eternal death and neverending despair.

These are sobering words, and a serious warning against all unbelief, false belief, and self-idolatry.

Fear God, therefore. But do not be afraid.

Where you have despised and rejected His Gospel, Repent. Return to the significance of your Holy Baptism, and to discipleship, and here now receive the Word and Sacrament of Christ Jesus, according to His mercy and His promise. Or, if you are not already baptized into Christ, submit to the catechesis of His Word, become His disciple, and follow Him into the Feast by His Cross.

In either case, wherever you have relied upon your own righteousness, Repent. Humble yourself before the Lord your God, in order to be stripped of your old wardrobe, and to be clothed, instead, with Christ and His Righteousness: by His grace, through faith in His Gospel. Hear and heed His gracious Word of Life, and rest yourself in His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

For you are not here by mistake, nor by accident, but the Lord your God, the King of heaven and of all creation, has called you by the Gospel of His Son, the Royal Bridegroom. Indeed, He has called you and invited you, not only to join the celebration, but to be a member of the Bride.

He has removed the shadow and the stink of death from you, by the sacrifice of Christ our Lord, by the shedding of His Blood for you, and by His own glorious Resurrection from the dead.

He has cleansed and refreshed your body and soul, your flesh and blood, in the washing of the water with His Word and Holy Spirit in your Baptism.

As you are His own dear child, by virtue of that same Holy Baptism, your dear Father in heaven has poured out His Spirit upon you, and has adorned you with all the Glory of Christ Himself, as a royal Bride made beautiful for her Husband.

And He Himself, who is your Bridegroom, has forgiven you all of your sins, as He daily and richly forgives you — and as often as you fall, He raises you up — so that He beholds no flaw or fault or failing in you, but He rejoices over you in love, and He delights in you with all His heart.

Now in this Feast of His Life and Salvation, which He has prepared and made ready for you here — in this wedding hall, and on this mountain, which is the Church on earth (as it is in heaven) — He gives Himself to you most intimately. He feeds you with Himself; He nourishes and cares for you; He provides for you, as a Husband for His Wife; and He preserves your faith and life, your body and soul, in Himself. All of this He sets before you here, and gives to you in His own Body and Blood, in His own Royal House, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

Behold, this is your God, your Savior and your Lord, your Husband and your Head — who with the Father and His life-giving Holy Spirit is one God forever — and you are His dearly beloved. Let us rejoice in Him, and rejoice in His Salvation, today, tomorrow, and always.

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