10 June 2012

Living Forever in the House of the Lord

The Builder of all things is God.  He is the Maker of the heavens and the earth, and of all that is in them.  He created the Man in His own Image, and the Woman for the Man, and He gave them to each other as husband and wife.  He also planted the garden in the East, the Paradise of Eden, and He gave it to the Man and to the Woman as their home.  All of this He did by His almighty and eternal Word, and it was very good.

Within this God-built house there is security and strength.  It is beautiful by His gracious design, well-structured by His Wisdom, and upheld in love by the power of His Word.  Within His good creation, in the good order that He has established, there is safety and security for those who live according to His will, that is, according to His Word.

Living in the place the Lord has provided, the Man is able to serve and care for the Woman, and the Woman is able to support and serve the Man.  Together they are fruitful and multiply, they fill the earth and subdue it.  They exercise dominion in the Name of the Lord, under His blessing.

So, what happened?  The house is falling apart.  The whole world is dirty, messed up, and dying.  Regardless of your politics, whether you are “green” or not, you know that’s true.  The Bible tells you so: Heaven and earth are passing away.  Creation groans under the curse of sin and death.  The grass withers, the flower fades.  It goes way beyond pollution and a poor stewardship of resources.  You may trash the place, or not, but there is a deeper rupture than you can patch, clean up, or fix.  Volcanoes erupt, and man is powerless to stop them.  Earthquakes rock the earth and swallow up man’s efforts in a moment.  Mountains crumble into the heart of the sea.  The sea fights back with tidal waves to drown the nations, and conspires with the wind to throw hurricanes back at the land.  There won’t be another world-wild flood, but fires lay waste to vast stretches of plants and trees.

It’s not only outside, but inside the house there is disarray and trouble, instead of the security and peace that everybody longs for.  Marriage and family are under attack and under stress.  You know there are political assaults on God’s institution of marriage and on the sanctity of human life.  Such contradictions of the natural Law that God has woven with His Word into creation itself at its core, and into the heart and conscience of man, erode the entire structure and stability of life on earth.

Speak out against such dangerous foolishness and sinful disobedience, as you have opportunity.  And obey God rather than man, whenever it comes down to it.  But don’t point the finger without also looking to yourself, to your own household and family.  It is not only from without, but from within, that marriages and families are under attack and falling apart.  Where the Lord has clearly commanded the honor of father and mother, the fidelity of husband and wife, there is disrespect and disobedience on the part of children, neglect and abuse on the part of parents, unfaithfulness and hostility on the part of spouses.  Sometimes it is blatant.  More often it is subtle and insidious.

Instead of safety and security in the house that God has built for you and given to you, even in those places where you ought be most at ease and comfortable, the devil runs amok and causes all manner of unrest.  Instead of contentment and cooperation, there is dissatisfaction and dissension.  Instead of peace and health, there is hatred and hurt.  Not only in others, but in you, in your life.  Satan entices you with lies and false promises, and then accuses you of your sin with a vengeance.  He attacks you in body and soul, as he tyrannizes all of the children of men with the fear of death.

The devil has such power and strength to constrain and threaten, because Man stretched out his hand to build his own house.  You know the story.  You’ve heard it before, and you live it yourself.  Tempted and deceived by the devil, the Woman stretches out her hand to take what the Lord has not given: to make a life for herself, not according to God’s Word, but contrary to it.  And the Man does not use the strength of the Lord to guard and protect his wife.  He does not speak the Word that God has spoken, nor does he step into the breach to subdue the crafty serpent, but with his own hand he receives from his wife what God has forbidden.  Instead of receiving from God in faith and giving to his wife in love, the Man ignores the Lord and follows the Woman into sin.

This sinful rejection of God’s Word — this willful disobedience of what He has clearly spoken, whereby you also now seek to make a house and a home of your own design, instead of living in the Lord’s House — puts everything in jeopardy, into a tailspin.  It puts you at odds with both God and the devil, and that’s a double enmity that you can’t handle or survive on either side.  So much for peace!  There is no peace in this house that you have built for yourself.  There is no rest in this bed that you have made.  Now there is a terrifying fear of God, instead of friendship.  And you have put yourself in the devil’s power, who already hated you and hunted you in the first place, by giving him these weapons and this ammunition: the accusation of sin and the threat of death.

It didn’t start with you, but it hasn’t ended with you, either.

Having chosen to build his own house, Man has taken on a lifelong struggle and a futile task.  So do you also struggle and toil away to stake your claim, to protect your space, to guard your castle and maintain it, to shut out the noise and keep death at bay.  Your house requires constant work, whether you do it yourself or pay someone else to do it for you.  But it still won’t last.  It is never stronger than your own strength.  It may outlast you, or maybe not, but it sure won’t last forever.

It’s not just your building, but your own body and your life: this mortal tent in which you live on earth.  The task of growing and gathering food is backbreaking labor, which drives you that much faster into the dirt from which you were taken.  Childbirth, too, as every mother knows, is under the curse of sin and the constant threat of death.  It is dangerous and precarious to start with, and it takes a toll on your body.  So marks the beginning of mortal life, for death has marked its prey.

The daily fight to survive in this fallen world, in the face of death, in the midst of guilt and shame, also pits the Man against the Woman, the parents and the children against each other, and brother against brother.  When you are endeavoring to build and keep and live in your own house, against all odds, everything is a potential threat, and everyone is your opponent.

You do make alliances, for the sake of survival, but even your allies are a threat when all your common enemies are not.  No one gets out alive.  Sooner or later, it’s just you in your crumbling castle, stacking all your furniture against the front door, in the hopes of reinforcing it; firing your canons out the windows, and pouring hot oil on the heads of all your foes.

Men use their strength to protect and pamper themselves: to make demands, to intimidate where they can, by one means or another; to threaten, to punish, to take for themselves whatever they can lay their hands on.  Big men do it with their bodily size and strength.  Small men do it with their loud voices and cruel words.  Rich men do it with their wealth.  Poor men do it with crafty stealth.

Women are thus left to fend for themselves, and they do.  If the men will not care for them in love, the women will conspire and manipulate to secure what they need, and to take what they want.  They position themselves and they wait for the opportune time to get whatever it is they are after.  They gossip and complain, but selectively and carefully, under the guise of naivete and innocence.

Children observe their parents and learn to emulate their strategies and sins.  Already your little boys and girls are figuring out their own survival techniques, how to compete and hold their own.  They use their strengths to serve themselves.  They accuse and threaten those who oppose them.

Each of you has your own sins, according to your own personality, your own abilities and traits.  Your house is not the same as your neighbor’s, and you’re proud of that fact, even as you fight to conceal your envy and jealousy.  But the underlying problem and the larger context is the same.  Sin and death hold sway, and so the devil has you and everyone else imprisoned and enslaved in your own houses!  You’re not safe inside.  You’re shackled and chained, and bound to lose it all.

But now the Stronger Man has come to the rescue, just as Jesus says.  The Lord Himself has come to plunder the devil’s house; which is really not the devil’s own domain, but the one that he has usurped and taken over, in which he holds you captive.  The Lord enters in to bring you out, and He establishes a new house and home, one not made with mortal hands, but eternal in the heavens.

First things first, He comes to bind the strong man, Satan, and He does so.  But the Lord Jesus is stronger than the devil, and He defeats the devil, with a different kind of strength altogether.  Not with swagger or sinister cunning.  Not with trickery, treachery, or deceit.  Not with harsh threats or deadly accusations, but with long-suffering patience, tender kindness, and gentle compassion.  He does not impose His own will upon His neighbor, nor assert His own will to make a house for Himself.  But He lives as a Son in His Father’s House.  He does the will of His God and Father.

In that strength and authority of faithful obedience, Jesus submits Himself to death, in order to forgive all the sins of the sons of men.  Far from making a life for Himself, He lays down His life in love for all others, in the faith and confidence that His Father will raise Him up again.  He does not take for Himself what has not been given, but He receives all things from His Father, in order to give all things to His neighbor; in order to be a strong Husband for His Bride; to give her life and care for her in love; to provide a safe and solid home for her in the House of His dear Father.

From the outside, looking in, He looks like 50 shades of crazy.  And He’s okay with that.  Or, to say it rightly, He freely and fully forgives that blasphemy against Him.  He doesn’t get angry or defensive, but simply refuses to count or consider such insults.  The fact is, faith and love and the Cross of Christ look foolish and weak, ludicrous and even insane.  But Jesus does not worry about or take offense at what others think of Him, because He is content with the Word and Wisdom of His Father.  He knows the pledge and promise of His Baptism.  He knows His office and vocation.  He knows what and where His true home is: with God.

Therefore, Jesus does not go out to His mother and His brothers, and He will not be taken custody by them.  Not out of any disrespect, and not as though to disown them or distance Himself from them.  But He calls and gathers a whole new family to Himself, into the House where He is found, by the preaching and teaching of His Word.  He establishes and populates a new household and family of God, which includes St. Mary, St. James and St. Jude, and disciples from all the nations.

By His own perfect faithfulness, and by His voluntary sacrifice for the sins of the world, He has robbed Satan of his weapons and his ammunition.  Sin is forgiven, and death is defeated; which leaves the devil with nothing to attack you with or hold against you.  Rather, creation is restored and made brand new, and reordered according to the will of God — already in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, and so too for all who live and abide in Him.  For His crucified and risen Body is the Temple of God, which is an eternal House for all who are His family by faith.

He brings you into that House and makes you a member of His own dear family by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He brings you into His own household and family, even as He plunders the devil’s house.  For He frees the children of men from captivity to sin and death; He cleanses them, and brings them to life, by the gift of His Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

Those who refuse and reject the Holy Spirit — that is, who refuse and reject the Gospel — remain in the bondage of the devil and outside of the Lord’s House.  Apart from repentance, that’s forever.

But you who have been gathered around Christ Jesus — who are gathered by and around His strong Word of faith and forgiveness of sins — you are His Mother, His brothers and His sisters.  That is to say, you are collectively His Church, and within her you are born again as the children of God.  You live now in His House, and you belong to His family, as surely as you are here to hear His preaching, to be catechized by His Word, to abide in His Baptism and to partake of His Body and Blood.  So surely are you part of His Body and Bride, the Church.

Since He, the Lord your God, forgives you all your sins — He holds none of them against you — therefore, Satan cannot legitimately accuse you of anything.  Nor can the devil threaten you or scare you with death anymore, since God your Father has raised Jesus your Brother from the dead.

Consider how this strength of Christ Jesus sustains you: For you are safe and secure in His House, which shall not fall.  Its sure foundation is the sacrifice of His Cross, once and for all.  And just as He is risen from the dead, never to die again, so shall it stand fast and forever.

Here in His House you are fed with food and drink that you don’t have to work for.  You are a child of God, and your Father feeds you with the flesh and blood of Christ.  It is by the sweat of His brow, by the labor of His Cross and Passion, that you eat and drink and shall not die but live.

Here in the Lord’s House, you and your family are given life in place of death.  This promise is for you and for your children, for your parents and your spouse.  The birth pangs of repentance are not the mark of mortality, but are the glory of the Cross, unto immortal and imperishable life with God.

You don’t have to build a house for yourself, and so that whole futile rat race is ended.  You no longer have to fight that no-win battle against death, which wearies you and wears you out but gets you nowhere.  Instead, you simply live in the place where God has put you, a beloved child in His family, and a permanent resident of His house and home, by faith in Christ Jesus.  And, as such, He strengthens you to make a safe house and a loving home for your neighbor here on earth.

Not that you must be and do everything for everyone, and not as though you are expected to make an eternal house or home for anyone.  Such things are not given to you.  But you know the promise and pledge of your Baptism.  You know your office and vocation in the world.  And, in Christ, you have the strength to live and love as He has called you.

You husbands have the strength, in Christ, to care for your wives.  You mothers have the strength to care for your children.  You children, to care for your parents.  You brothers and sisters, to care for each other.  Not with any flawless perfection of your own, but with the perfect righteousness of Christ, which is yours by His grace, through faith in His Gospel.  Not out of guilt or shame or fear, but in His peace and hope and charity.

You have this strength to love and serve each other, because you have your home and family in the strong House of the Stronger Man, Christ Jesus.  Having died for you and risen from the dead, He has defeated your enemy, the devil, and He has reconciled you to His Father in peace.  He has made a place for you forever, and in Him is your Sabbath Rest that shall not end.  In His crucified and risen Body — which you have entered by your Baptism, and which you eat and drink in the Sacrament — you have genuine security.  You really are safe.

So, too, you have the strength to forgive all the sins of those who sin against you; because the strength of your Savior, Christ Jesus, is the strength of His Gospel.  He does not accuse, threaten, or punish, but He daily and richly forgives you all of your sins.  He forgives your weakness and your fear.  He forgives your laziness and your neglect of responsibility.  He forgives your short temper and your abuse of power.  He does not hold any of your sins against you, but He calls you to repentance, and He gently raises you up to live by faith in Him, to live in love for your neighbor.

If the whole world thinks you’re crazy, well, never mind that; you’re in good company.  So shall you be glorified with Him, who loves you.  Whatever affliction you may suffer is momentary, and it’s not even worth comparing to the eternal weight of glory for which the Lord Jesus is preparing you, even now.

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

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