31 May 2013

Because He Has Shown His Mercy Toward Us

Beloved, rejoice in the Lord.  Give all thanks and praise to Him.  Sing to Him, and bless His holy Name.  Glorify and honor Him; worship and adore; because He has shown His mercy toward us.

The Lord your God, the holy and almighty One, here comes to visit you in peace, to dwell with you in love.  As by the Tabernacle and the Temple in the Old Testament, in the Ark of the Covenant and upon the Mercy Seat, He lived in the midst of His people Israel with His grace and His glory; so now, in His own flesh and blood, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from within the Most Holy Place of her womb, the Lord Himself, Yahweh Sabaoth, has come to be with you.

He comes by His Word, and with His Holy Spirit, with His grace and His glory, in His true divinity and His true humanity, in body and in soul, hidden within the womb of His Church on earth.  And by His coming and His presence, by His gracious visitation, this house made with human hands is now a priestly house, wherein you are met by God, and sanctified, and given life with Him.

The incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, comes to be with you, in order to bring you, in and with Himself, to God the Father in heaven.  That is the goal and the purpose for which He has created and redeemed you, and for which the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies you — and the whole Christian Church on earth — by the Gospel of the same Lord Jesus Christ.

By His mighty arm and outstretched hand, He raises you up: from poverty and weakness, to wealth and strength; from humility and shame, to glory and honor; from hunger and fear, to contentment and full satisfaction; from weariness and sorrow, to peace and rest.

He defeats all your enemies, and He defends you from them.  He brings you out of danger into safety and security with God.  He does not accuse and condemn you, but He forgives all your sins.  He does not punish and destroy you, as you deserve, but He delivers you from death and raises you up from the dust of the earth.  He recreates you in His Image for newness of life with Him; not only in your soul and spirit, but in your body, just like His own.

In Christ Jesus, you are anointed and filled with the Holy Spirit, and you are bound to God the Father — as He is bound to you — by an everlasting Covenant, in a divine and holy Communion.

So it is that God, the Father Almighty, has spoken to you by His Son; and in remembrance of this mercy, He acts to do all of these great things for you.  The One who promises is faithful, and He will surely do it.  Blessed are you, who thus believe, that there will be a fulfillment of His Word.

It is by faith in His Word — by the Sound of His Voice — by the preaching of Christ Jesus — and not yet by sight or experience — that you are blessed by the presence of Christ and made brand new in Him.  As it was for St. Mary and St. Elizabeth, and as it is for the whole Church on earth.

You do not yet see the fulfillment with your eyes.  You can’t investigate it with your hands, in such a way as to prove it.  Instead, you hear the promise with your ears, and it is by that promise that you live in hope and eager expectation.  You look forward with anxious longing for the revealing of the sons of God, when you shall see your dear Lord face to face, and you shall be like Him.

For now, to be sure, you do not yet feel or experience the Resurrection, but you bear and suffer the Cross, within and without.  There is still poverty, hunger, weakness, and fear in this world: in your own body and life, and in others round about you.  There are still tyrants on earth, on every level, who rule with an iron fist and deal unjustly with those who languish under their abusive power.  The wicked still prosper, with impunity, while the righteous are persecuted and are put to death.

Not only that, but in yourself, as well, in your mortal flesh and blood, and in your heart and mind, there are still sin and death at work.  Your faith and love are not what they should be.  You doubt the Lord and the Word He has spoken.  You do not trust His promises, nor do you expect Him to do you any good.  You hurt and neglect the very people you should help and be caring for.  You are haughty, when you ought to be humble; and you despair, when you ought to rejoice.

But now, then, do not wallow in self-pity, nor defend yourself in arrogant pride, but repent, trust Christ, and live.   Do not be afraid of anything, but fear the Lord your God, and have no other gods before Him.  For He is with you.  Behold, He comes to visit you in His justice and righteousness.

Repent of your sins, therefore, and rejoice in His Salvation.  For His coming does not depend on you, nor is it met with your own worthiness, but He visits you by grace, and He gives to you His great salvation in accordance with His tender mercy and compassion.

In all events, He is here, and that is most certainly true.

The Holy Triune God remembers His mercy and His faithfulness, and He fulfills His Word, in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  For He has permanently bound Himself to you, already by His conception in the womb of St. Mary.  Flesh of your flesh, and blood of your blood, He does not deny you or disown you, but He joys to call you His own kin, and He defends you.

He is not ashamed to call you His brother, or His sister; because He has redeemed you, obtained forgiveness and established righteousness for you, and brought about the New Creation, into which He now calls you and brings you, in His Body of flesh and blood, by His Cross and Resurrection.

If what you see and feel and experience, for now, is the Cross and suffering, sin, death, temptation, sorrow, and the grave, so has He made all of these His own, and borne them in His Body for you; and He has dealt with them, in faith and love, in humility and perfect obedience, even unto death.  Wherefore God, His Father, has raised Him from the dead and highly exalted Him.  And that which He has done for you, accomplished and received on your behalf, is now pledged and given to you.

Thus, His preaching of repentance wounds you, in order to heal you: it crucifies and buries you, in order to raise you up and make you alive; and it calls you to faith in the forgiveness of your sins.  He puts to death the old Adam in you, in order to make of you a new man, or a new woman; no less than He made of St. Mary a New Eve, and He Himself became a new and better Adam for us all.

This Lord Jesus Christ, with His mighty arm, with His great things and His holy Name, is found here in this place, where His Word has directed you.  Arise, and come in a hurry to find Him here in His priestly house, in His gracious hospitality: in the Ministry of His Word and Sacraments, and in the fathers and mothers of faith, who are righteous in the sight of God and live in His Love.

The holiness of His Name is thereby demonstrated, and bestowed upon you here, in His grace, mercy, and peace toward you.  For those whom He calls and sends to go before His face — like St. John the Baptist, even from his mother’s womb — those men likewise announce the presence of the Lord and rejoice in Him by the Gospel; whereby you also, like St. Elizabeth, are filled with the Holy Spirit and rejoice in the Life and Salvation of Christ.

Hidden here, in the womb of His Church, the Body and Blood of the Lord, born of Mary, crucified and risen, are given and poured out for you to eat and to drink in the remembrance of His mercy.  For so does He fill the hungry with good things, and so does He feed you with these great things, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting in Communion with the Holy Trinity.

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

26 May 2013

Like Father, Like Son

If you go north on High Street, a few blocks from Milton, you’ll pass a house with a huge message written on the front: “Abraham believed,” it says.  The letters are a bit worse for the wear, but you can still read it easily enough.  I pass by it frequently, usually several times a day, and so I have often wondered about that message.

I have no desire to question or criticize the intentions of whoever wrote “Abraham believed” on that house.  The words themselves are a very brief quote from the Holy Scriptures, with which I cannot argue; nor would I want to argue with them.  There is a problem, however, in taking such words out of context, because doing so results in ambiguity, confusion, and uncertainty.

There are many people who would like to hold up Father Abraham as a common denominator between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, since each of these religions holds Abraham in some esteem and finds him in its scriptures.  I’m sure that we can all agree that, in this world, we would prefer to see less violence and hostility, and a mutual respect for human life and dignity.

What cannot be found or claimed is any common ground of faith in Father Abraham; leastwise, not in the man himself, nor apart from the actual story of his relationship with the Lord.  For it is not the great Patriarch, but his God, who is the Source and Center of faith and life and all things.

It is necessary, then, to confess the object and content of Abraham’s faith.  In other words, What did Abraham believe?  And, again, Whom did he believe?  Even to say, with the Holy Scriptures, that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” still begs the essential questions: One must know what Abraham’s God is like, and what He says and does.  More than that, if you would be a child of Father Abraham, you must know Abraham’s God; that is, not just “about” Him, but you must know the Lord God Himself.  And it is only by His Word that you do.

Abraham knew the one true God, believed in Him, worshiped Him by faith, and was justified by Him, in the Word and promise of the Son.  That was the object and content of Abraham’s faith: namely, the promise that he would have a son, and that in his Seed both he and his family and all the nations of the world would be blessed.

Abraham saw and rejoiced in that promise, in the birth of his son, Isaac.  And he clung to that same promise, even still, when the Lord God told him to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved.  He trusted that God would raise Isaac from the dead, as needs may be, in order to fulfill the promise He had given.  As it was, the Lord prevented Abraham at the last moment, and spared his beloved son.  Instead, the Lord provided for Himself the Lamb, a Ram caught in the branches by its horns, to be sacrificed as a whole burnt offering on Mt. Moriah.  For there the Lord saw, and He provided.  And there, again, Abraham saw and rejoiced in the Word and promise of God.

Now the Lord Jesus reveals that what Abraham saw and rejoiced in was the Day of Christ Jesus Himself.  That is the audacious claim that He makes concerning Himself in this Holy Gospel, which would be blasphemous and conceited in the extreme, if not for the fact that it is the Truth.  For it is Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, God in the flesh, in whom Abraham believed, and by whom Abraham is justified and saved.

We are all quite sensitive to boasting in others, because we are so prone to boasting in ourselves.  But Jesus is not boasting, except in His own God and Father.  He does not glorify Himself, but He honors the Father who sent Him.  This is not to make of Christ Jesus a “lesser god,” but it is to recognize the one and only God in Him.  To know the Father, is to know and love the Son; and to know the Son, is to know Him in the flesh as the true Seed of Abraham, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  There is no other God.

That is the great scandal of Christianity, which does not tolerate any other claim or confession, and which, therefore, cannot be tolerated.  It is this fact, that the one true God is known only in Christ Jesus, that causes the world to hurl abuse at Him, and to pick up stones to throw at Him.  And yet, the fact remains; and it is actually confirmed by the hostility of those who thus dishonor Him.

The world in its wisdom has not come to know God (nor could it).  Therefore, God, in His wisdom, has made Himself known by the foolishness of the Cross, by the Crucifixion of the Christ, and by the preaching of this foolish message of the crucified God.

Like Father, like Son.  You all know how that goes; but, all the more so in the case of this Son.  You know both God the Father and Father Abraham in Him.  For He is a true Son of Abraham, but He is also Abraham’s Savior and Lord.  The faith of Father Abraham is found in Him, the promised Seed, who lives by faith in His own God and Father in heaven.  So, too, is Abraham’s faith fulfilled in this Son, who is conceived and born miraculously, according to the Word and promise of God, and is sacrificed upon the Altar of the Cross, as the Lamb that God has provided for Himself; and this same Christ Jesus, God has also raised from the dead for the justification of the world in Him.

You see both Abraham’s faith in the promise, and God’s fulfillment of the promise, in the flesh and blood of Jesus.  Thus, He is indeed greater than Father Abraham, and He is more than all the prophets; not because He does not die, but precisely because He does, and by His death He conquers death for all who love and trust in Him by keeping His Word.

In His Baptism, He received the promised Spirit of the Father, which was both the consecration of His Body for the Cross and the pledge of His Resurrection from the dead.  And having thus received the Spirit in His crucified and risen Body, He now pours out the same Holy Spirit upon His Body, the Church, in that which you see and hear.

This is the Wisdom of God: Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified.  By His willing sacrifice upon the Cross, and in His bodily Resurrection, He has established His Church; and, as a Master Workman, He builds her up in Himself by the catechesis of His Word and by the preaching of His Gospel.  Thus, His New Eve is crafted from the flesh and bone, the water and the blood of this New Adam.  And His own beloved Sarah conceives and gives birth to the children of God, from a womb once dead and barren.  By the Word and Spirit of the Father, in Christ, she has become at once both a Virgin Bride and a Royal Mother.  And so are you, with her, both cleansed and sanctified by faith and fruitful in love.  For out of death you are raised to newness of life in Christ.

It is in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, that you know and love the Father and receive the Holy Spirit, unto the life everlasting in body and soul.  For by His death, He has defeated death and removed its power over the children of men.  He has entered Hades and burst it asunder from the inside-out.  He returned to the dust of the earth, whence man was taken, and yet, His flesh has not suffered decay, but He has risen from the dead as the very Image and Likeness of God, the First-fruits of the New Creation.  In Him, the fellowship of God and man is perfectly and permanently embodied and is always actively accomplished; so that man now lives and abides in the undivided Unity and the blessed Communion of the Holy Trinity.

That which is sure and certain and forever true in Christ Jesus, is given to you by the Ministry of His Word: by the preaching of His Cross for the forgiveness of all your sins; by the promise of His Resurrection, which is your righteousness and reconciliation with God; and by the Word-made-Flesh, given and poured out for you to eat and to drink in the Sacrament of the Altar.

So does God the Father make Himself known to you in the Person of His beloved Son.  And this, indeed, is the knowledge of profound and personal intimacy.  That is to say, the one true God gives Himself to you, and makes His dwelling with you, and He abides in you, in your body and soul, with His Word and Spirit, and with His own flesh and blood.  Thus does He pledge Himself to you against the condemnation of the Law, against the assaults and accusations of the devil, against the experience of sin and its consequences, both in yourself and in others, and against the seeming inevitability and finality of death and the grave.

None of these enemies (not even God’s own holy Law) can harm you or destroy you, because all of these have been placed beneath the feet of Christ.  He has honored the Father, and the Father has glorified Him, for the life and salvation of His good creation (and in fulfillment of His Law).  Therefore, all things are made brand new by the gift of His Spirit, and all the nations of the world are blessed by the Seed of Abraham, that is, by the preaching of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

That is the promise that stands fast in the face of every contradiction.  Death and dishonor do not and cannot undo it, because they have been undone.  You cling to the promise for dear life, come hell or high water against you, because, by and with this promise of Christ, God the Lord clings to you and will not let you go.  Even when He preaches the Law, and calls you to repentance, and lays the Cross upon you, He does so in love, in order to lay hold of you in peace.  He abides with you, that you may abide in Him.  He will not abandon your soul to Hades, nor leave your flesh to decay back into the dust forever.  But as He keeps you by His Word, so shall you not die, but live.

The promise is sure.  It is solid and secure.  It shall not be shaken, nor removed.  It is as real as the Body of Christ, as eternal as the Son of the Living God.  In the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, God has sworn an oath by Himself, and has established an everlasting Covenant within Himself, that is, the Father with His own dearly-beloved Son in the Holy Spirit.  As surely as He is God, He is faithful, and He will do what He has promised.  He cannot deny Himself.  He will not deny you.

As Abraham once rejoiced in the promise of the Son, and saw the Day of Christ in his own beloved Isaac, so has the promise been made more sure for you in the Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection of your dear Lord Jesus Christ.  Now is the Day of His grace.  Now is the Day of His Salvation.

Today, as you hear His Voice, He pours out His Spirit upon you by the forgiveness of all your sins; and so does He give you His own divine eternal Life.  In the Body and the Blood of Christ Jesus, you know the Father in His Son: You know Him as “He is,” and ever shall be.  And you dwell, now and forever, in the Temple of God.

Rejoice, therefore, and let us give glory to Him — to the Father in His Son and by His Spirit — because He has shown His mercy to us.  Blessed be the Holy Trinity, and the Undivided Unity, the true and only God, now and forever.  Amen.

18 May 2013

Pray Tell, Lord Tennyson

Is it better to have done more harm than good,
than to have made no difference at all?

14 May 2013

The Heart's Desire

Those who persist in despising the Sacrament throughout this mortal life shall finally receive their heart's desire, that is, the complete and eternal separation of their body and their soul from the body and blood of Christ Jesus, otherwise known as eternal death and damnation.

Those who hunger and thirst for the Sacrament through faith in the Word of Christ, even until death, shall also receive their heart's desire, which is the complete and eternal communion of their body and soul with the body and blood of Christ Jesus, otherwise known as eternal life and salvation.

12 May 2013

Perfected in the Unity of the Father and His Son

Our risen and ascended Lord, our great High Priest, Christ Jesus, gathers and governs His Church in love by the Word of His Apostles, and by the Ministry of that apostolic Word.  That is why He provides pastors for His Church on earth, and prays for His pastors and His people at all times.

The unity of His Church, therefore, is the unity of His Word, and of the Holy Spirit, who speaks and gives life to the Church of all times and places through the Word of Christ Jesus.  Because His Word does not change, nor does it contradict itself, but by His Word He creates and sustains all things in harmony and peace, so is the unity of His Church preserved by His good Word and Spirit.

This unity of which the Lord Jesus speaks on this day, and for which He prays to His Father, is not something else in addition to, or besides, the Church’s faith and life in Him.  It is, in fact, that very unity of faith and life in His one Body, which is solely by His Word of the Gospel.  It is not something that you, or we, or any of us are able to achieve, but the true unity of the Church is a gift of His grace, which we can only receive from the Father.  Not simply because we are sinful and mortal, and it would be too hard for us to pull it together and maintain it.  But, much more to the point, it is the unity of Christ Himself, of His two natures in His one Person; and it is the unity of three divine Persons in the one true God, the Holy Trinity — in which we live only by His grace.

The fact that we receive and share this unity of God Himself is astonishing and remarkable, but such is the Father’s Love for His Son; and that is the same Love that He extends to His Creation in Christ, and to His Church, in particular.  In love for His Son, the Father sends Him to redeem the world and save us; and by this great Salvation, the beloved Son makes known the Father to us.

This Love of God — the Love of the Father for His Son, and the Love of the Son for His Father, in the personal and perfect Unity of the Holy Spirit — this divine Love is the grace and glory of the Holy Triune God, which He reveals and bestows upon His Church by the Gospel of Christ.  Which means that the Gospel is not simply news or information about God, but is reconciliation with God in Christ, and true righteousness before Him, and a real relationship with Him, whereby you live in His Love: you actually abide in the very nature of God and partake of His divine Life.

Such great things are so, and they are freely given to you by grace in the Ministry of the Gospel, because everything that Christ accomplished and established in Himself, in His own human flesh and blood, He has done for you, as your merciful and great High Priest: from His Baptism, through His Cross and Resurrection, into His Ascension to the Father.  Everything is now yours in Him.

You are named with the Name of God, and anointed by the Spirit of God, and adopted as a son of God in Christ Jesus, by your own Holy Baptism.  Thus are you crucified and raised with Christ, sanctified by His precious Blood, and a member of His Church, with access to His Tree of Life.

The unity of the Church with God, as one Body in Christ, is freely given and firmly grounded in this Sacrament of Holy Baptism: precisely because Christ our Lord is One, who was baptized for us, and sacrificed once for all, and, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again.

And now this unity of the Christian Church is expressed, and exercised, extended and increased, in the apostolic doctrine and fellowship, in the Breaking of the Bread, and in the Prayers of the Church for herself and all her members, for the world and all its nations.  That is to speak of the Divine Service, which is the teaching and preaching of the Apostles’ Word, the Holy Communion of Christ’s Body and Blood, and the Church’s confession, intercession, praise and thanksgiving.

In sum, the Church, which is the Body of Christ, lives in the Liturgy of His Word and Sacrament, and to and from His Liturgy in a fraternal fellowship of mutual love.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you all eat the Fruits of His one Tree, and you are all healed by its leaves, which are the several gifts of the Spirit in the Gospel of forgiveness.  Thus, you all partake of one and the same Spiritual Food and Drink.  That is to say, you all eat the one Bread, which is the Body of Christ; and you all drink from His one Cup, which is the New Testament in His Blood.  This Holy Communion is the unity of the Church in the flesh, as Christ Himself is God in the flesh.

Beloved of the Lord, do not make a farce or a fiction of that holy fraternity and blessed fellowship.  Do not despise this sacred Supper, nor those who feast upon it with you.  To do so is to sin against the Body of Christ, against the Lord Himself.  It is also to lie, to deceive both yourself and others, and to make a false confession concerning God — to deny that Jesus Christ is sent by the Father.

Repent of all frictions and factions among you, and love one another in deed and truth.  Confess the Word of Christ that is preached to you, with both your lips and your life.  Love and serve your neighbor in his or her body and life, with your own labors of love in thought, word, and deed.

That means thinking of your neighbor, and listening to your neighbor; caring for your neighbor, as you take care of yourself, and in the same way that you would have your neighbor care for you; and sacrificing yourself and your will for your neighbor’s sake.

It also means and requires repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  Which means what?  That you humble yourself, confess your faults and failings, seek out your neighbor to apologize and make amends, as you are able; and, that you are always eager to forgive and gladly to do good to those who trespass and sin against you — as God Himself does not count or consider your sins.

Therefore, be patient, as you yourself require patience.  And be at peace with all people.

As all of this comes only from God (and it is not able to come from anywhere else than Him), the true unity of the Church both requires and results in prayer, the very voice of faith, which cries out to the Lord your God, and calls upon His Holy Name, and looks to Him for all that you need.

In such faith, pray with and for the Church, and for the world.  Pray for your neighbor, and pray for yourself, for the mercies of God, and for His gracious presence.  Pray for the forgiveness of all your sins, and that Christ would strengthen and sustain your faith in His Gospel of forgiveness; for you are not worthy of any of those things for which you pray, but He cares for you by grace.

Pray that God would glorify Himself in you.  And realize that, in so praying, you ask that He would bring you to repentance through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus; that He would save you from your sin, and give you a new heart, a new mind and spirit, and manifest His own divine Love in your body and your soul, to the glory of His Holy Name, unto the Life everlasting in Him.

You can be sure and certain of such prayer, and therefore pray with boldness and confidence in Christ Jesus; first of all, because He has taught you and commanded you to pray in this way, by His Word and Holy Spirit, and He has promised to hear you.  Not only that, but He has named you with His own Name, and He has made you a beloved child of His own God and Father in heaven; so that you now pray to God in much the same way that a little toddler beseeches her dear Daddy.

Your prayer is joined to that of Christ Jesus Himself, your merciful and great High Priest, who ever lives to make intercession for you.  Therefore, you have not only His example in this Holy Gospel, but also His ongoing and constant petition for you, and for His whole Church.

What is more, Christ Himself is not only your Priest, but He is your Prayer.  He is the Sacrifice that is offered up to God, and the Incense that ascends and is received as a pleasing aroma before Him.  His Resurrection is the Father’s resounding “Yes!” and “Amen!” to all your prayers and to all your needs.  And His Ascension to the Right Hand of God is the final Answer to each and every request, whereby you also are positively heard and graciously received into the presence of His Father.

Dear Christian, as the Lord Jesus Christ has called you to Himself by the Word of His Apostles, so does He bring you to His God and Father in His own Body and Blood.  This blest Communion, Fellowship divine, is not simply a means to some other end, but this Feast is already the divine Life, which is yours, even now, by grace through faith in Christ; and so shall it be yours forever.

Indeed, the eating and drinking of His Body and Blood, by which you are united with Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and with His whole Christian Church in heaven and on earth, is the surety, the down-payment, and the guarantee of the resurrection of your own body.

This Holy Supper is given and poured out for the forgiveness of all your sins; it bestows the life and salvation of Christ Jesus to your body and your soul; it likewise mends and heals whatever is broken or amiss within the fellowship of the Body, by the Word and Spirit of the Gospel.  Thus, it nourishes and substantiates the unity of the Church, and so makes known the Father in His Son.

For here the Lord Jesus abides in you, as the Father abides in Him; so that you, also, abide with one another in the Body of the Son, and in the Spirit of His God and Father.

In this the Father answers the prayer and petitions of His Son, your merciful and great High Priest; and He Himself, the Liturgist of the Divine Service, provides the answer to His own intercession for His Church: Right here He does so, in the “Upper Room,” as it were, no less so than on that night when He was handed over to His voluntary suffering and death.  Right here He does and gives everything, in the midst of His true Jerusalem, on earth even now, as it is in heaven forever.

Here is the Center, where God and Man, the Church, and all of creation come together and are perfected in the Unity of Christ Jesus:

“Come,” says the Spirit to the Bride.  “Come,” says the Bride to her members and her friends.

“Come,” says the one who hears and receives the invitation to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

“Come,” you who are thirsty, and drink freely without cost from this fountain of Life.  “Come,” you poor and hungry children; be filled and satisfied with these good things, by the grace of God.

For the Lord Himself testifies and says, “Surely I am coming quickly!”  Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus!

11 May 2013

For the Prayers of the Church

Lord God, heavenly Father, we praise You and give thanks for Your gifts and blessings of marriage and family, and for giving and sustaining life through our mothers.  Support them in their callings, and strengthen them in all adversity, that they might glorify Your Holy Name; and grant that we might rightly honor our mothers according to Your Word.  Draw near to those who long for children, and hear their prayers; comfort those who mourn the loss of their children; and pour out Your gracious providence upon all widows and orphans in their loneliness and distress; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

09 May 2013

Never Say Goodbye

Beloved of God, the Lord Jesus has not gone away.  He has not left you alone, but He Himself is with you, and He has poured out the promised Spirit of His Father upon you.  The same Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, is, even now, and shall be evermore, your merciful and great High Priest.  He lives before God in righteousness and purity forever, on your behalf; in order to establish a place for you with God.  And He reigns over you in love with His Gospel.

As He has stretched out His arms for you upon the Cross, in offering up Himself to the Father as the Sacrifice of Atonement for all your sins, so does He lift His hands in blessing upon you, to justify you with His own righteousness, to raise you up from death to life with Himself, and to anoint you with His Spirit by His Word.

Thus, He gives Himself to God as the true Man, and He gives Himself to you as the one true God; and, in Him, both God and Man, and heaven and earth, are bound together in perfect harmony.

Righteousness and peace kiss each other in Him, so that you are now reconciled to God the Father in His beloved and well-pleasing Son.  Indeed, your flesh and blood, your body and soul, your whole life, and all of creation, are sanctified with God eternally, in the Body of Christ Jesus: in His own Person, first of all, but also in His Body, the Church, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

It is in Him that you know and love God rightly, and that you live the true life.  Not by escaping from your body of flesh and blood, nor from your place in life, wherever it might be, but precisely in that place where God has put you, in your own skin, in your life and occupations on earth.

Remain there, where He has stationed you, and be gathered here within His Church on earth, and wait upon the promise of your Father in Christ.  Already you are being clothed with His power from on high, with His Spirit and His righteousness.  Already you are God’s own child, and a citizen of His heavenly Kingdom; although for now it is by faith in His Word, and not by sight.  For as the Christ entered into His Glory through His suffering and death upon the Cross, so do you enter the Kingdom of God through repentance, by faith in His forgiveness of sins.

Therefore, do not be afraid, and do not despair of His presence and His peace.  For His blessing is upon you in the lifting up of His wounded hands, and the Gospel of His Cross and Resurrection is preached to you in His Name; even as He lives and reigns forever at the Father’s Right Hand, and intercedes for you as your Royal High Priest.  God the Father has established Him there by an unbreakable oath, by raising Him from the dead, crowning Him with Glory and honor, giving Him all authority in heaven and on earth, and putting sin, death, the devil, and hell beneath His feet.

Now, I know — and He knows it even better than you and I do — that you don’t yet see or feel or experience the Glory of His Resurrection and Ascension.  You don’t yet see all things beneath His beautiful feet.  You don’t yet experience the fact that His enemies and yours have been defeated.  You don’t yet feel His Victory and your Redemption, except by way of His Cross and suffering, which still seems like exactly the opposite: a contradiction of what it really is.

It has crossed my mind, these past few days, that if you were kidnapped and held captive for a decade, bound in ropes and chains, used and abused by some stranger, you would be sorely tempted to hopelessness and despair, and could easily suppose that you had been abandoned and left utterly alone in your misery.  How often would you cry out, frantic for someone to help you, but seemingly not heard, and not helped?  Would you conclude that your family, friends, and loved ones had forgotten you and given up on you?  And what about Jesus?  Where would He be then?

I pray to God that none of you are ever in such dire straits and terrible circumstances as we have all been hearing about this week.  But you are likely tempted and tried in many of the same ways, even so.  Perhaps you feel trapped, or imprisoned, not by some stranger, but within your own home and family, by your job, or by your debts and obligations.  Perhaps you are tied up and chained by doubts and fears, by guilt and shame, or by envy and jealousy.  Perhaps it is the devil who is using and abusing you with his lying and murdering, day and night, within and without.

Or, whatever the particulars of your own case may be, you have heard the Word of the Lord, that in the world you have tribulation.  That’s not the exception, but the rule in this mortal life.  What you see and feel and experience is not the Resurrection, but the Cross, and it would seem as though the Ascension were hardly a case for celebration, but nothing so much as a sad goodbye.

And yet, the Lord is with you.  He has not gone away and left you.  He’s not some pie in the sky, but He has entered the presence of His God and Father in your own skin, as it were; in the same flesh and blood and bones that He shares with you and all people.  The Cloud that received Him is the grace and glory of God, by which He also comes to you and abides with you in the Gospel.

It is not by accident or coincidence that two men in white stand before you and proclaim the Word of the Lord Jesus to you; for thus it was necessary, that, not only must He suffer, die, and rise again on the third day, but also that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in His Name to the ends of the earth.  By this means, He fills all things, and the Kingdom of God comes to man.

It’s like the difference between a single radio, which can only fill a limited space with its sound, depending on its wattage and speakers and volume, and, by contrast, a radio broadcast tower, which can blanket a huge area with its signal, and be heard wherever its signal is received.

So does the Word of the Lord go forth, beginning from Jerusalem, to all of Judea, to Samaria, to Rome, to the New World, the Third World, to Africa and Asia, and to the whole planet.  And as the Word goes out, so does it gather disciples of Jesus together into one Body, one Church, into the Holy City of God, the New Jerusalem, where the Lamb upon His Throne is not only the Priest and King, but He is the Temple of God among men, the Lamp and the Light which illuminate the New Creation, and both the Bridegroom and the Wedding Feast of finest Wine and richest Meat.

That is your home, your place of peace and Sabbath rest.  That is where you live, because that is where Christ is, both with you and for you, forever.  Because He really does unite and hold all things together in Himself, as He serves you, and worships the Father, and pours out the Spirit by the Gospel, and prays and intercedes for you at all times.

It is not only that He is everywhere at once, filling all things with Himself; nor only that He is with you here, and with the Father in heaven — although that much is true, to begin with.  But He also brings God to you, the Father and the Holy Spirit, in and with Himself, in all that He continues to teach and to do, and in His own Body of flesh and blood.  And in Him, at the same time, you are with God; for He brings you to the Father, and He seats you with Himself in the heavenly places.

Beloved, you are baptized into Christ, and that means, not only that His Cross and Resurrection are yours, but also His Ascension, too, His Spirit and His Father, and His place within the Holy of Holies.  So, too, when you eat His Body and drink His Blood here, within His Church on earth, you live and abide with Him in the Bosom of the Father in heaven.  This, indeed, is already to be living the true divine life for which you have been created by the Holy Triune God.

Not as though your life on earth, now, under the Cross, were always pleasant or easy.  We all know better than that!  With the rest of creation, we are longing for the consummation of all things: for the resurrection of the body, the revealing of the sons of God, and the life everlasting in Paradise.  We long for that, and pray for that!  And rightly so, as Christ our Lord has taught us to pray to our Father in heaven for the coming of His Kingdom.  Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus!

But let us do so — let us pray for the coming of Christ and His Kingdom — precisely in the bold confidence that Christ our Lord has borne the Cross for us and conquered in the fight, and that His resurrected and glorified Body is already the Firstfruits of our own sure and certain resurrection.

In Him, it is already finished: a done deal.  And it is for us.  It is for you, as the Sacrament declares.

This is what His Ascension means and signifies and does for you.  He fills all things in heaven and on earth, in order to be actively present and at work in and with His Church; and in order to bring His Church and all her members, including you, to His God and Father within His own Body.

The fact that He ascends as the Crucified One, and that He serves you by the ways and means of His Cross, means that all the hurt and heartache and hard things shall not be able to destroy you, nor to separate you from Him, His Life and His Love; but, by His grace, they actually help to heal you and save you and bring you to heaven.  For He works repentance in you, and disciplines your mortal flesh, in order to bring you through suffering and death into faith and life with God.

There simply is no pain, no persecution, no place nor pit nor hell hole, where He is not with you in peace.  And so, you are with Him, who lives and reigns forever at the Right Hand of the Father.

He doesn’t make you come to Him, nor even to meet Him halfway.  And He doesn’t simply come to keep you company in misery.  But He gathers you fully to Himself, and He embraces you with Himself, and He abides with you, as true God and true Man, as your Savior and your Salvation.  Thus, as you know from the testimony of St. Paul, your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Mortal life in this fallen world is one of constant separations, which cut you off and distance you from family, friends, and loved ones, and even from your nearest and dearest kin.  Whether by death or disease, by accidents or atrocities, by adventures or adversities, by ailments or age, your relationships and your connections are constantly being changed, and eventually they are ended.

But the Ascension of your crucified and risen Lord Jesus proclaims a permanent place for you, and perfect peace with God.  It does not change, and it cannot be taken away from you.  Nor is it far away from you now, but up close and personal, a very present help at all times, in every trouble, and a source of genuine great joy in the face of everything that confronts you.

It is here for you in the Temple of God, given and poured out for you to eat and drink.  It is here for you in the hands of Christ Jesus, with which He blesses you, and feeds you, and absolves you; with which He signs and seals you as a Christian, a child of God; and by which He raises you up.

As all of this is here for you in Him, in His Body and His Blood, so shall He be with you always, wherever you may be; and so shall you be with Him, and with the Father and the Holy Spirit — at home and at peace with the Blessed Holy Trinity, forever and ever, world without end.  Amen.

03 May 2013

Emptied of Yourself to be Filled Up with Christ

Someone who is full of himself needs, not only to be emptied of himself, but to be filled up with Christ; lest seven other demons worse than the first come and set up house in him.

Judas got over himself, alright; yes, he saw to that himself, when he ended his own life in despair.  Not the solution.  Simon Peter, on the other hand, was first of all emptied, and then he was filled up, when he was both humbled and exalted by the Lord.  For the Lord lifts up the lowly and fills the empty with good things, by the preaching of the Gospel to the poor, by proclaiming the Year of Jubilee to those who are under the thumb, and by giving the Kingdom of God to those who have become like little children.

The real problem with being full of yourself, is not that it is tacky, rude, or boorish, but that it is deadly idolatry.  It is a kind of self-cannibalism, really, for your own insatiable appetite for yourself will simply consume you from the inside-out, piece by piece.  The god of yourself can never fill you up; you cannot add an inch or an hour to yourself or your life; you cannot bestow more than you already have, but, instead, you are emptied of everything you were given, by devouring yourself, one bite and one breath at a time.

When the Lord demolishes the idol of yourself, He does so not to shame, embarrass, or humiliate you, but rather to be your God and give you life.  He tears down, in order to build up.  He wounds, in order to heal.  He kills, in order to make alive.  His goal is not to get even or get revenge, nor to teach you a lesson, nor to punish you, but to save you from yourself, for life with Himself.  He is not jealous of you, but for you.

So He does not simply crush your ego, but He recreates you in His Image.  And when He knocks you off your pedestal, He does so in order to bring you into His Kingdom.  For He would not have you make a name for yourself, which could not last, but He names you with His own Name.  He makes you His own child, and gives you what is His.  Thus, He restores you, He makes you brand new, and He brings you to perfection.

The Lord does not "put you in your place," as you deserve for your hubris, but He has taken your place in humility, and emptied Himself, and made Himself nothing, in order to raise you up, to fill you with Himself and His good Spirit, and to give you His own glorious place with the Father.

01 May 2013

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

Your heart is troubled, because you are longing for home; which is really to say that you are longing for life with God.

But you find yourself wandering and wondering, curious and confused. You don’t know where you’re going, nor the way. You experience yourself to be a stranger and an alien, separated from God, lost and alone, far away from home, because of sin; because of doubt, denial, disobedience and rejection of God’s Word.

Take heart, dear one. Be at peace, and do not be afraid.

Your home is where Christ Jesus is. He has prepared a place for you — by His Incarnation, by His Cross, and in His Resurrection and Ascension. Indeed, Christ Himself is your Place, where you belong; He is your true Home, your Life with His God and Father forever. This not only in your heart and soul, but first of all in your ears; then also in your mouth and in your body.

Already here and now, you are at home with God in Christ Jesus — by His grace alone, through faith in His Word. And so shall you be at home with God hereafter, forever and ever, in Christ.

In His Incarnation, He has come close to you, and He has become like you in every way, save sin. And He has perfectly united God and Man in Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood.

By His Cross and Passion, in His own flesh, He has undone and rectified the separation of sin, so that all mankind is reconciled to God in Him.

In His Resurrection and Ascension to the right hand of the Father, He has raised man to life with God — in the flesh — in righteousness, holiness and blessedness forever.

In all of this, the Word and work of the incarnate Son, you behold the true heart, the gracious good will, and the divine nature of the Father. You know and love, and believe in the one true God and Father, by this way and means of the one true God, the Son.

How then do you know the Son and believe in Him?

It is by His Word, and by the works that are done in His Name.

That is how the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ did the same and even greater works than He had done; because they preached and performed, in His Name, the accomplished Word and work of His Cross, and thus distributed the fruits of His Resurrection from the dead.

They preached heaven on earth. They preached God the Father in His Son, Christ Jesus, and so the blessed life and forgiveness of His Holy Spirit, through the Holy Gospel.

In remembering and giving thanks for the Holy Apostles, for St. Philip and St. James, though we know very little about them, we remember and give thanks for Christ Jesus, our Savior; and in Him, we know and love our Father in heaven.

For the whole Christian Church, the House of God, is built upon the foundation of the Holy Apostles, of which Christ Himself is the Cornerstone, who gives shape and stability to the whole.

You live and abide within that House, and thus you live and abide with Christ in God, by the Word and work of the Apostolic Ministry: the same preaching and performance of the Gospel.

It is by that Word and work of the Gospel that God abides with you in love; and by faith in that Word of the Gospel that you abide with God in peace and hope.

It is by faith in His Word, and not by sight, because you live and walk by the way of Christ the Crucified through this valley of sorrow to your eternal home in heaven.

So you carry the Cross and go to your death, as Christ and His Apostles did, in the faith and hope of His Resurrection. You wait upon the Justice of God the Father, who will raise you also in the righteousness of Christ.

For now, you live in the wilderness, surviving on the water of oppression and the bread of privation (irrespective of your temporal circumstances). But surviving, nonetheless, in the household and family of God, in which your Teacher makes Himself known through the preaching of His Word and His gracious work.

You know where you are going, and you know the way; not because you have found it or figured it out, but because He is the Way, and He has found you. He has already gone the way of the Cross for you, and by it He has opened the Way of Life with God for you. Your sin no longer separates or prevents you from God, but in Christ you are already safely at home with Him.

Let not your heart be troubled. Eat the Bread of Christ the Crucified, with which your Father feeds you, here at His Table in His House. For you are His dear child, and this is your home.

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