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.

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