29 September 2013

Rich Man / Poor Man / Son of Man

What is the point and purpose of your stuff, whether much or little?

Whatever sort of “wealth” the Lord has provided you, what should you do with it?

And what about your particular sort of “poverty”?
What is the point and purpose of that?

Whatever may be in your hand, or whatever may be lacking, be rich toward God and rich in good works toward your neighbor.  Faith and love, that is how you are to receive and use stuff.

Do not be conceited, nor trust in your riches, but in God.  You know the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods before the one true God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  You should fear, love and trust in Him above all things.  You do so in Christ Jesus.  Therefore, do not fear, love and trust in anything or anyone more than the Lord Jesus, who gives you His Body and His Blood from His Altar.

And do not be consumed by your desire for earthly wealth, whether you have it or not; whether it be money, or clothes, or music or movies, or books, or children, or land, animals, or any other worldly goods, all of which waste away in time.

Neither poverty nor riches will save you, but only faith in Christ Jesus.  Therefore, be content with whatever God has given you by His grace, that is, by His Charity; for you deserve none of those things which He has placed into your hands, but He gives them all to you by grace, because He loves you, and He is kind and merciful.

Exercise your stewardship of those gifts to care for the Lazarus at your gate, whom God has laid at your feet to be loved and cared for with His Charity, with His own fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.

Cross over to that poor man now, while you can, in love!

Or, if you are the poor man, and if perhaps you lack even food and clothing, trust the Lord your God, even in your affliction, and pray!  For your Father in heaven hears your prayers and answers them, even the sighs and sad groans of your heart.

Give heed to Moses and the Prophets, in order to know the good and gracious will of God and His way of life.  And wherever you are found to be lacking in faith and love, Repent, and do good.  Where you have done what is wrong, do so no longer.  And where you have not done what you should, do it now.  Not to save yourself, but because it is good and right; because God has commanded you to do so.

But how shall you be persuaded?  And how shall you be saved from all your sin?

O foolish of heart and slow to believe!  For you it is impossible.

But not with God.  And not for Christ.

What Moses and the Prophets preach — and what the Apostles now preach, and what your pastors preach — is the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, your Lord, your Savior and your God.

For your repentance and salvation, it was necessary for Him to suffer many things, and so to enter into His Glory through suffering.

And it is no less necessary that His Cross and Resurrection be preached to you, as the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins; which is His work in you, as it has been His work for you.

He is the Rich Man who has made Himself poor in order to make you wealthy, not with perishable riches, but with all the treasures of the one true God.

He was clothed in purple in His Passion, but stripped naked in His death, in order to cover your nakedness and clothe you in His righteousness.

He was wounded sore, in order to salve your wounds and heal your sores by His holy and precious blood, poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

He hungered and thirsted for the food and drink His body needed, yet He hungered and thirsted for righteousness far more, and He fasted and prayed, in order to feed you lavishly and sumptuously with His own holy Body and His precious Blood.

He has crossed the great chasm into Hades, and He has bridged that unbridgeable gap with His Life, in order to bring you, in and with Himself, out of death and the grave to the very bosom of the true God and Father in heaven.

For having borne the utter poverty of your sin and death — having atoned for your unbelief and selfish greed; for your doubts and fears, and laziness and covetous lust; for your idolatry, adultery and gluttony — He has been vindicated by His Father, who raised Him bodily from the dead, never to die again.

That Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus is your repentance, your resurrection, and your righteousness, now and forever.  Whether you are rich or poor, sick or healthy, better or worse.

For by your Baptism into Christ Jesus, you have died and risen with Him;
you have been stripped naked and clothed with Him.

You are not punished or tormented for your sin,
but you are comforted in and with Christ.

Neither wealth nor works nor worldly wisdom will help or serve you here.  But in your poverty and weakness, you are a little child at your Father’s Table.  It makes no difference how old or young you are.  He opens your mouth, and He feeds you.

Do not doubt that He will do so, now and always.  You shall not starve, nor be found naked.  For you are fed and clothed with Christ, who shares your flesh and blood; who has died and risen for you.  No good thing does He withhold from you.

For His sake, because He has made Himself like you, and because He has graced you with Himself to be like Him, the holy angels guard and keep you in His safety.  They are not ashamed to take you up into their strong embrace, to bear you up to your Father.  As even now they accompany you, dear little one, to the lavish Table of your dear Lord Jesus, who loves you very much and serves you most gladly.

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

24 September 2013

Their Angels Behold the Face of My Father

For the Feast of St. Michael & All Angels (from A.D. 2002)

Angels (of a sort) have become rather popular over the past several years.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that popular culture has actually become rather fascinated with the whole idea of “angels.”  Thus, it isn’t hard to find a variety of calendars, cards, and books portraying angels in all shapes and sizes, usually in some manner of cuteness or romanticism, “other-worldly” in a kind of science-fiction/fantasy concoction.

Unfortunately, in almost every case, these so-called “angels” of the world’s imagination are considered and discussed apart from any mention of Christ and His Church.  In many cases, they actually have far more in common with new age mysticism than any sort of Christianity.  They give the yuppies and the generation ‘x’ crowd a way of being “spiritual” and “religious,” without taking the Holy Triune God Himself seriously.

All such focus and attention on the “angels” (or some idea of “angels”) for their own sake, apart from Christ, plays right into the hands of Satan—that wicked angel, lucifer, who fell from heaven (and took a host of others with him) precisely because he wanted to upstage his Creator and Lord: the Father Son & Holy Spirit.

In order to avoid that pitfall, especially today as we give thanks for Saint Michael and all the holy angels, the safest and most fruitful course of action is for us to consider the role of angels on the basis of Holy Scripture.

To begin with, our Readings from the Old Testament Prophet, Daniel, and from St. John’s Book of the Revelation, in particular, give us a very different picture of the real angels of God than the “cutesy” and “romantic” images of legend and pop culture.  Saint Michael the Archangel is a fierce and mighty warrior of the Lord, and his angels a powerful army, waging war against the powers of darkness.

And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought.

In order to put these things into perspective, let us also consider a few examples from the Old Testament Book of Second Kings, which indicate to some extent the immense strength and great number of the holy angels:

On one occasion, the king of Syria dispatched his army to surround the city of Dothan, where the Prophet Elisha was staying.  A servant of the Prophet discovered, when he woke that morning, that the surrounding countryside was brimming with these Syrian soldiers and their weapons of war.  However, when he reported this news to Elisha, the Prophet calmly told him, “Don’t be afraid!  Our army is bigger than theirs.”  Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes to see “horses and chariots of fire everywhere on the hills surrounding the city,” i.e. the mighty angelic army that was keeping constant vigil around the Prophet and people of Yahweh.

Some time later, the good King Hezekiah received a threatening letter from a commander of the Assyrian forces, indicating that they would take Jerusalem captive.  When Hezekiah immediately sought help from the Lord, the Prophet Isaiah assured him that not one Assyrian arrow would be fired into the city.  Incredibly, in one night, a single angel struck the enemy camp and 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were found dead the next day.

Now this morning we have heard from the Book of the Revelation a description of a great cosmic battle being waged first in heaven (and also now on earth) between Saint Michael and all the holy angels on the one hand, and Satan with all his demonic hordes and fallen angels on the other.  Given the power of these great and powerful beings, we can hardly imagine the intensity of that conflict; no doubt the military conflicts of the past several years, in the middle east and elsewhere, would simply pale by comparison.

But as St. John continues, “Woe to you, O earth and sea!  For the devil has come down to you in great wrath.”  Which is to say, that same fierce battle that Saint Michael and his angels fight against Satan also unfolds and is fought for each and every one of you individually, beginning with your Baptism into Christ Jesus.

We find that battle being fought quite clearly in the Gospels.  In fact, the casting out of demons is one of the primary trademarks of our Lord and His Apostles, as we have heard again this morning from Saint Luke.  The demons must submit to the Name of Christ.  And it remains the case to this very day, also for you and me, that wherever Christ and His Gospel enter in, Satan is cast out and falls like lightning from the sky.  In the powerful words of Dr. Luther’s Baptismal rite: “Depart, unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!”

In the waters and the Word of Holy Baptism, you have been given a participation in the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ.  And that reality which you have in Christ is the very thing that gives to you the victory over sin, death and hell, and the power of the devil.  For there is nothing and no one in heaven or on earth which can destroy the Life of Christ.  Rejoice, therefore, in the words of our Lord, that your name has been written in His Book of Life, and that you have thus received the promise of eternal life with Him in heaven.

What is more, along with that certain hope of everlasting life, you also have another promise from the Lord, as recorded by Saint Matthew in his Gospel, that the “little ones” of Jesus are watched over and protected by His guardian angels, who “always behold the face of His Father in heaven.”  That applies not only to small children, but to you and me, as well, and to all who have been “born again” as the “little ones” of Jesus Christ by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  From that moment, when your battle with Satan began, you are assisted by the mighty protection of angels.

The Guardian Angels guard and protect you in Christ, and they are honored to do so, because of Christ and all that He has done for you.  In fact—as great and powerful as the holy angels are—they nevertheless stand in reverent awe of the fact that you are raised in Christ to the heights of His divine nature.  For in Christ, the Incarnate Son of the Living God, your lowly human nature has been exalted far above all the angels; some theologians speculate that it was knowledge of this plan for humanity that led Satan to his jealous rebellion.

But as for Saint Michael and the holy angels of God, there is no jealousy; quite the opposite, as our Lord reveals in one of His Parables, the angels in heaven rejoice at your repentance and the salvation of your soul and body in Christ Jesus.  As those who live to serve the Holy Triune God, they find their greatest joy and satisfaction in seeing the accomplishment of all that He has offered and given to you (and to all His people) by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

Accordingly, the protection of the Guardian Angels is not only physical (as most of us might normally assume), but also (and especially) a spiritual protection:  For example, when Jesus promises in our Gospel this morning that nothing at all will harm His Disciples, He obviously does not mean that His Christian people will never suffer loss or pain of any kind in this world; indeed, in many other places He clearly promises and reveals that those who follow Him must carry the Cross.  Yet, in spite of the suffering and death that you may endure in your brief life on earth, you have His promise that “nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate you from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That is the protection, above all else—your spiritual preservation—that Saint Michael and the holy guardian angels provide, by the gracious will of our Father in heaven.  And then, in addition, they oftentimes preserve your physical life on earth, as well (and probably all of us could give some striking examples of that fact).

But our relationship to the holy angels does not end with their protection of our bodies and souls; nor will it ever end.  For they also join with us, both now and throughout eternity, in praising our Holy Triune God and the Lamb upon His Throne (as Saint John describes for us in the early chapters of Revelation).

We acknowledge that presence of the holy angels among us in worship, especially as we gather for the Holy Communion, blending our voices with theirs in the “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify the glorious Name of the everlasting Father Son & Holy Spirit.

It is truly meet, right, and salutary, that Saint Michael and all the holy angels should surround us as we gather today for the Holy Communion.  For as revealed by the Word of the Lord in our Reading from Revelation, ultimately, you overcome the forces of Satan and his evil angels “on account of the Blood of the Lamb,” which He gives to you again this morning for the strengthening of your faith and for life everlasting.

In the Old Testament, when Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, a mighty angel with a great flaming sword was set to guard the Tree of Life, lest they should eat from the tree and live forever in their sin.  But now, by the holy and precious Blood of Christ, all our sin has been forgiven, and His Cross has become for you and me a new Tree of Life, from which we eat the Fruit of His Redemption: His Body given for us.

Thus, beyond all doubt, the holy angels are gathered here with us, still guarding the Tree of Life from sin, death, and the power of the devil—no longer barring the way to the children of Adam and Eve, but keeping us safe and secure as we eat from this life-giving Tree.  The great flaming swords and the powerful armies of Saint Michael and all his holy angels surround us on all sides and fight for us to the glory of Christ.

These mighty angels rejoice before the Face of the Father in heaven, that your name has been written in His Book of Life, and that you have been given the Name of the Holy Triune God in your Baptism.  Therefore,
they join with you—and with all the people of God (in heaven and on earth)—in worshiping the Lamb Who was slain, Who has risen to live and reign forever, Who comes to you now in His Body and Blood.

In the beautiful words of the ancient hymn:

Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way, as the Light of Light, descending from the realms of endless day, comes the powers of hell to vanquish as the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six-winged seraph, cherubim with sleepless eye, veil their faces to the presence as with ceaseless voice they cry: “Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia, Lord Most High!”

22 September 2013

The Rich Man Had a Manager

Jesus has been teaching you what it means to be His disciple: that you must relinquish your own possessions, let go of earthly ties, and lay down even your own life.  You are given His Cross to take it up and follow Him, in order that you live and die like Him, and become like Him.

So He has been teaching you what He is like, what sort of Man He is, what sort of God He is, what sort of Lord and Master He is.  He is the Man who receives sinners and eats with them.  He is the Shepherd who risks ninety-nine sheep to rescue one.  He is the One who prizes repentance over righteousness, who came into the world to save sinners, and does, and rejoices over them in love.

He is the Rich Man who, for your sake, made Himself poor, and who gave Himself as the Ransom for you and for all; so that you, by His poverty, might become rich.

This is a different sort of wealth than silver and gold, which perish, and a different sort of elegance than pearls and expensive clothing, which wear out and decay, or may get lost or stolen.  The wealth and riches of Christ Jesus are imperishable and inexhaustible, and they are also traded, given and received by a very different economy than worldly wealth.

But do not suppose that gets you off the hook where your money and possessions are concerned.  If you would be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and live in His Kingdom, then His economics pertain to all your goods and services, to all your words and actions, to all that you are and have.  And if you are not trustworthy in what is the least, then how shall you be trusted with the true riches of righteousness, life and salvation?

The way in which you handle your stuff and deal with your neighbor in the world is indicative of where your heart is fixed and where your treasure is found.  There can finally be only one treasure in your heart and life, one master, one Lord and God.

So whom do you worship and obey?  Whom do you love?

Of course, you know that you should fear, love and trust in the Holy Triune God above all things, and have no other gods before Him or besides Him; that you are to worship Him, the Lord your God, and serve Him only.

But if you would know where your heart and mind really are, before whom they bow, and what they serve, consider how you spend your time, and how you spend your money.

What do you do with your body and life on earth, and what would you eagerly do if you were given the chance and could get away with it?

Think about the way you do your job, the way you go about your chores, tend your home, or apply yourself to learning, and why it is that you do what you do in the way that you do it.

What is it that drives you?  What prompts you to do your best, and what causes you to slack off?  Do you work for yourself, or for others?  Do you live before God in righteousness and purity, or do you strive to justify yourself in the eyes of men?

Consider and discern the measure or criteria by which you evaluate yourself and your neighbor, and by which you compare yourself with your neighbor and compete with him or her — or by which you care for your neighbor with compassion and charity.

The Lord knows your heart, irrespective of your outward actions.  And He would have you know your heart, as well, and repent of whatever in it is not faith and love, according to His Word.

The Lord knows when you trample the needy instead of providing for their needs.  He knows when you overlook the poor or take advantage of them, instead of feeding them and clothing them, sheltering the homeless and visiting the sick or imprisoned.  He knows when the alms in your hand are given as a token, for the sake of appearances, or in order to assuage your guilt and stroke your ego, rather than a real sacrifice of mercy.

He knows when the hands you lift or fold in prayer are otherwise being used to hurt instead of help or heal, and whether they are engaged in holiness and righteousness or robbery and scandal.

He knows when the lips with which you call upon His Name in prayer, praise and thanksgiving are otherwise used to argue and dispute, to curse, swear, lie and deceive, or to confess your sins and apologize for them, and to forgive those who trespass against you.

The Lord knows your sins of thought, word and deed, your wasting of His gifts, the squandering of your stewardship, and the accusations of the Law against you.

So, because He loves you and desires to save you, to bring you to the knowledge of the truth, He calls you to repentance.  He calls you to examine your heart and mind, your words and actions, and to give an account of your stewardship.  He calls you by the Cross to be crucified with Him, and raised with Him to newness of life and welcomed into His Father’s House.

What, then, does such repentance look like?  What does it entail?  Where you have wasted your Lord’s good gifts, which are really His things entrusted to your stewardship or management, how should you be using them?  What does Jesus say and commend?

The economics of Christ Jesus are utterly foreign to the wisdom of the world and detestable to those who love money and worship wealth.  In the same way, what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.  This is the way of the Cross, the truth of Christ the Crucified.

Remember that He is the Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, and that He grants life to His fallen creatures at His own expense, at the cost of His own blood, by His innocent suffering and death.  His management is mercy, the administration of His Gospel.  The real coin of His realm is neither silver nor gold, but the forgiveness of sins.

Wasting His possessions does not mean reckless spending or extravagant giving, but just the opposite.  You waste His possessions when you horde them and hide them, keep them and multiply them.  By the same token, you manage your stewardship shrewdly, rightly and wisely, when you give His gifts away and forgive His debtors freely.  It isn’t about savvy investments or profit-making, but a seemingly foolish trust in the Lord and extravagant love for your neighbor.

That is what He means by teaching you to make friends for yourself with worldly wealth.  That is to say, use what the Lord has entrusted to your care to love and care for your neighbor.  Not as a means of bribery, nor as though to buy your way into heaven (which won’t work), but in the way of repentance.  Worldly wealth will not last forever, no matter how you save it or spend it, keep it or give it away.  It cannot justify or save you.  But the Lord Jesus is your Savior and your God, whether you have money or not, or any other treasures or talents.

Therefore, in faith, use whatever you do have to befriend and love your neighbor, as the Lord Jesus has befriended you in His great love and mercy and compassion.

Greater love has no man than this Lord Jesus Christ, who lays down His life for His friends — who, indeed, by the sacrifice of Himself, by the shedding of His Blood, makes friends out of His enemies through forgiveness and reconciliation.  In Him, the Truth is revealed in the mercies of God, and righteousness and peace kiss each other.  He has emptied Himself and made Himself nothing, undertaking the absolute poverty of death upon the Cross, in order to bestow the true riches of His divine Life and His Kingdom upon poor miserable sinners, including you.

And in His Resurrection from the dead, His Father welcomes you — along with Him — into His eternal dwellings.

It was for this purpose that St. Paul was appointed a herald and Apostle, for the testimony of the Lord’s Redemption in due season.  What Christ accomplished and obtained for you by the sacrifice of His Body and Life, His flesh and blood, is administered to His Church on earth by the preaching of the Gospel, by the teaching of the true faith, by the stewardship of His Divine Mysteries.

It is for this same purpose, also now for you in this place, that the same Lord Jesus Christ has appointed His servants, the pastors of His Church, to be heralds of His Cross and ministers of His Gospel, stewards of His Mysteries and shepherds of His little lambs.  That is what a pastor is, and therefore what a pastor does in faith toward God and in love for Christ’s Church.  Your pastors do not simply tell you about the love of God, but they love you with the love of God, and God Himself loves you in and with your pastors.

Do not doubt that it is true. Do not look at the outward appearance of the mortal men who are your pastors, nor sneer at Jesus and His called and ordained servants, but hear and heed the Word of Christ concerning these men.  And hear and heed the Word He speaks to you by these men.

It is required of a steward that he be faithful in his stewardship, for he is a man under authority.  In the case of a pastor, the authority that he is granted by his Master, by virtue of his office, is the authority of Christ to forgive the sins of those who repent and thereby to save sinners.

When a pastor is tempted to waste his Master’s possessions by withholding the Gospel, hiding and hording the gifts, and neglecting the means of grace — when he is tempted to justify himself in the eyes of men, rather than conducting his office in the sight of God — then the Lord, in His mercy, calls His servant to repentance, befriending him again and again by His grace, teaching him mercy and forgiving his sins.  Much as we have heard this past Friday evening in the case of St. Matthew, the former tax collector, who became a dispenser of God’s grace through the Gospel.

It is with that same measure of the Gospel that your pastors care for you in the name and stead of Christ, your Savior and Good Shepherd.

When your pastors preach to you, it is the Voice of one and the same Good Shepherd that you hear; and you know and recognize His voice and follow Him, by grace through faith in His forgiveness.

When your pastors preach repentance, both the Law and the Gospel, they return you to the significance of your Holy Baptism. You die and rise with Christ Jesus, so that you are cleansed and sanctified and made brand new. For the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus are not simply true, but they are for you; not just once upon a time, but once for all, and here and now for you.

The Lord does not forget what He has done for you, but He remembers you in mercy, day by day, night by night, week after week, and year after year, even to the close of the age.

And, as He remembers you in mercy, so are you given to remember Him.  For when your pastors administer the Holy Communion and give you the Body of Christ to eat and pour out the Blood of Christ for you to drink, all the fruits and benefits of Christ and His Cross are yours.

These are the riches of the Rich Man, which He and His servants are accused of wasting because they are given and poured out so freely and generously.  So be it.  That is the sort of Man He is.  That is the sort of God He is.  That is the sort of Lord and Master He is, and it is enough for His servants to be like their Master.

I urge you, then, first of all, to pray, intercede and give thanks to Christ Jesus, also for your pastors, that you and they may live together in the peace and quietness of the Gospel, in the godliness and holiness of faith in the One who loves us.  This is good and pleases God our Savior.

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

20 September 2013

The Crucified and Risen Lord Gives Good Gifts

St. Matthew, the former tax collector, is among the Lord’s good gifts to His Church.  Indeed, as one of the Twelve Apostles, and as the first of the Four Holy Evangelists, he is a most excellent gift of God’s grace toward us in Christ Jesus.

He was given, not only to preach, but to write the Holy Gospel for the posterity of the Church, even to the close of the age; and, in that Word of the Gospel, Christ Himself is with His Church.

But St. Matthew remembers — as he himself records for all the ages in that same Holy Gospel — he remembers where he was, and who and what he was, when the Lord Jesus saw him, found him, and called him to follow: to become, first of all, before anything else, a disciple of the One who makes His Way to the Cross.

He was a “Levi,” as we know from the other Evangelists, but he had sought his inheritance, not in the Lord, as the Levites were to find their heritage in Him, but in the collecting of taxes, in the making of money, in worldly wealth and riches, in the worship and service of mammon.

Yet, the Lord had mercy on this man, Levi, and compassion on his whole motley crew.  He sought him out and called him to newness of life, that is, to the real life that is found only in Christ Jesus.

So it was that Levi became a new man, and he was called “Matthew,” a gift, because of what he received, and because of what he was given to be.  What he freely received, in the compassion of Christ Jesus, he freely delivered and bestowed upon others.  You have heard that, for example, in the way his home became a place of hospitality for Christ and His disciples, and for other sinners.

By the gift of St. Matthew, and by his Ministry of the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ has sought and found others, and has called them to Himself, to follow Him through death into life everlasting.  Not simply in the Book of the Gospel that St. Matthew wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit; though, to be sure, that precious Book has been copied, published, and distributed in countless ways to all the nations of the earth, to the praise and glory of God, and to the edification of His saints around the world.

But it is also in the Apostolic Office of the Holy Ministry, to which St. Matthew was called and ordained, that Christ is actively present and at work to seek and to save the lost, to call sinners to repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins.  What St. Matthew wrote is what he and the other Apostles first of all preached and administered; and it is that Office, and that good work, which is continued in the preaching and teaching of men who are called, ordained, and sent by Christ.

Men such as the Reverend Dave Seyboldt, who is given here to you by the same Lord Jesus Christ.

You have heard the testimony of St. Paul the Apostle, that pastors, too, are God’s good gift to His Church.  But you may not always recognize or appreciate that fact.  As children do not always see their parents as good gifts, and spouses do not always perceive each other to be God’s good gift, so too, and for similar reasons, the people of God may struggle to think of their pastors as gifts.

Often you are grateful, and you are generous in your thanksgiving.  But there are times when what you see most clearly in your pastor are frailties and failings, weaknesses and mistakes.  In fact, the better you get to know him, the more and more aware you may be of his sins and his mortality.

The devil would have you stand in condemnation of your pastor, and of the Lord Himself, who has given you such a pastor; in much the same way as the scribes and pharisees grumbled and complained concerning Jesus and the company He keeps.

Believe me, your pastor is more painfully aware of his sins and shortcomings than you are; and the Lord knows even better.  But so it is, that, in your pastor, the Lord demonstrates His mercy and compassion for sinners; and in calling His servants daily to repentance and to faith in His Gospel, He teaches them such mercy and compassion for you, as well.

You have heard of the shepherd who rejoices at the finding of the lost sheep.  So does your pastor learn to have such joy for the salvation of lost souls, as he himself receives mercy from the Lord.  He learns what it means to desire compassion, as he himself receives the compassion of Christ.

As it was for St. Matthew, so it is for your pastor, and for each pastor of the Church, that he must first of all become a disciple of Christ Jesus, before he can “go and make disciples” of others.

To be a disciple is to live by faith in the gracious providence of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so to receive and rely upon His good gifts.  That is no less true, but all the more so, for those who are called to serve as ministers of His Church.  And our dear Lord is faithful in providing all that is required for this good work to which He calls and sends them.  He gives them His good gifts, in love for them, who are His own men, and in love for the sheep He entrusts to their pastoral care.

For it is the case that, for the household and family of His Church, as also in each of your homes and families, the Lord of mercy cares for His people: in, with, and under His Holy Cross.

Foremost among His gifts, especially within the Office and vocation of the Holy Ministry, is the Word of God, both the Law and the Gospel, by which He reveals and conveys His divine Will for life and salvation.  Such is the heritage, in particular, of those who are called to be the “Levites” of His Church on earth, that is, His servants who are given to care for the Tabernacle of His Body.

He gives them His Word to preach and teach, to catechize both young and old, to admonish and absolve, to encourage and instruct in the Way of the Lord.  But, so also, He gives them His Word, in the first place, by causing His Word to be preached and spoken to them, that is, to His servants, in order to forgive them, to heal them, to strengthen and sustain them in His faith and life forever.

They have nothing to give, and no Word to speak, but that which they have received from Him.

It is not a mushy, sentimental word that is spoken to and by the ministers of Christ, our Lord, but the deadly and life-giving Word of His Cross: It is the Word of Christ, the one true God who has become flesh and blood for us, crucified and risen from the dead.  Such a Word is deadly, because it crucifies and buries your old Adam with Christ Jesus; for so must each and every disciple take up the Cross and follow after Him, even unto death.  But it is no less a life-giving Word, because it raises you with Christ in His Resurrection through the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

It is a Word of lamentation for the sins of the world, and for the death that has fallen upon all men because of sin.  And yet, it is a Word that has become sweeter than honey in the mouth of him who preaches, by the dying and rising of Christ, our Savior, who was crucified for the transgressions of the world, and who has risen from death for the reconciliation and righteousness of the world.

Your pastor learns that Word, not only academically, but in his own experience and suffering of the Cross: in the pain of repentance, and in the blessed relief and resurrection of forgiveness.  He is given to eat and drink such things, to receive them not only into his ears and his head, but into his mouth, his stomach, his whole body; into his heart and soul and spirit.  He is given to consume the Word of the Lord, the preaching of repentance and forgiveness, that it should consume him.

So does your pastor learn mercy and compassion on the narrow path of his own dire straits, so as to have sympathy and tender affection for even the least of these, for tax collectors and sinners, who, like himself, have no hope nor help but Christ.  He is taught by the Word of the Cross, and by the Cross itself, to know and practice the humility of repentance and the confidence of faith; and to proceed in the Peace of Christ, received and given, by and with the forgiveness of sins.

It is by this Ministry of the Word of the Cross, by this preaching of repentance and forgiveness, by the practice of confession and absolution, that you grow up into Christ, your Head; that you are conformed to the Image of God’s own beloved Son, crucified and risen from the dead.  Not only that you emulate His good example, but that He puts you to death and raises you to newness of life.

So is a pastor also formed by the Cross of Christ, for the administration of the fruits of the Cross, that is, for the breathing of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel, and for the giving and pouring out of the Body and Blood of Christ at His Table.

These are the works of mercy and the acts of compassion which define and characterize the Office of the Holy Ministry; and which, in turn, define and characterize the Christian faith and life.

At the heart and center is the Lord Jesus, who is not ashamed to call both you and your pastor His brethren; who graciously receives you to Himself, and reclines at the Table with you in peace; even as He stands to serve you, and as He kneels to wash your feet.

This Man receives sinners, and He eats with them.  Yes, and what is more, He feeds them from His own hand, with His good gifts: with Himself, His Body and His Blood.  He is the best Gift of all.

He gives Himself to you, Pr. Seyboldt; and He gives you as a gift to His people in this place.

Beloved of the Lord, He gives Himself to each and every one of you; and He gives you to one another, and to your neighbors in the world, so that you also are a good gift of His compassion.

That is how your dear Lord Jesus works mercy upon sinners.  It is with compassion that He acts.

As He takes bread, and, by His Word, He gives it to you, His very Body, for the forgiveness of all your sins, so does He take this man, David, and, by His Word, He gives him to you, His servant, His spokesman, to serve you, to preach and teach, all for the sake of forgiving you all your sins.

His heart is stirring with a noble song.  Let him recite what has been fashioned for you by the King.  For his tongue shall be the pen of that skilled Writer.  How sweet is the Word who thus speaks Peace to you.  Much sweeter than honey is the Word of Absolution in his mouth.

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

08 September 2013

The Things That Make for Peace

People do start projects they can’t finish.  They do it all the time.  Maybe due to pride, or maybe out of desperation.  Without a lot of forethought or planning, perhaps; or with a naive optimism.  Not just other people, but you do it, too.  You take on more than you can manage.  You make promises that you won’t be able to keep, maybe with the best of intentions, or maybe just to keep the wolves at bay for a little while longer.  You write checks that your body can’t cash.  And you go into debt buying things you don’t need and can’t afford.

The same spirit of competition and self-advancement that drives you to do such things, beyond your actual capacities and limitations, also puts you into conflict with everyone around you.  So that, along with all the rest of it, you take on opponents that you can’t hope to beat or overcome.  Eye of the tiger and all that, but this, too, is vanity.  And you’re not alone in your bravado.  From the playground to the White House, the sons and daughters of Adam pick fights they can’t win.

All of this is foolishness; which is always easier to spot in the choices and decisions of the other guy, than it is to admit in yourself.  But you know better, or you should.  To tackle more than you can handle is foolish.  It’s a waste of time, energy, and resources, all of which could have been, and ought to have been, put to some better use.  And, as the Lord Jesus points out, you not only suffer the loss of your investment, but embarrassment and shame in the eyes of all who see it.

The stakes are that much higher in the case at hand, in this Word of our Lord.  Be wise, therefore, and consider this: If the war you want to win is the judgement of God’s holy and righteous Law, and if the goal you want to reach is that of real life and genuine prosperity in the heavenly places, there’s only one way to gain that victory, and only one way to arrive at that goal.  Only one way, and that, not of yourself, but it is by the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by following Him through death and the grave into His Resurrection and His Life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.

By the way of the Cross.  But what does that mean?  To take up the Cross and bear it after Christ is not an exercise program or a disciplined new diet, whereby you would strive to build yourself up and improve your overall health and well-being.  There is a place for such discipline in this body and life, and in your spiritual life, as well.  But the Cross does not aim at a better you.  It’s not a matter of self-improvement.  To take up your own cross, is to embrace your own execution.

To be a disciple of Christ Jesus, to take up His Cross and follow after Him, is to renounce yourself; to disavow your collections and trophies, your prizes and scrapbooks; to disregard, not just your possessions, your perishable stuff, but all of the “best” parts of who you are, that is, your wisdom, reason, strength, and achievements.  To bear the Cross is to be done with your self-righteousness.  And, with that, it redefines all of your relationships, as well, with family, friends, and neighbors.

To be crucified, is not to get stronger and healthier, but to die to yourself and your life in the world.

So, then, give up building your own towers, and stop attempting to fight your own battles; because the truth is that you can’t reach the heavens nor win the war by any of your own ways and means.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can make it or complete it.  You can’t.  Think about it.  When all the world was united, following the Flood, the descendants of Noah set out to build a mighty tower, in order to make a name for themselves, to achieve their own fame and glory, in disobedience to the Word of God.  And it sure seemed like there wasn’t anything they couldn’t do.  But the Lord set Himself against them, confused their communications, and terminated their grand building project.  They could do nothing, finally, except what the Lord determined and permitted.

The “rich fool,” likewise, as we heard from Jesus a few weeks ago, considered his crops and his storage barns, carefully counted his costs and his profits, and then made his plans to build more and bigger barns for all his grain, to store up his wealth for many years to come.  But then his life came to an end, and he wasn’t able to carry out his plans, nor to benefit from all his crops.

When it comes to battles and warfare, consider the history of Moses and the Israelites, of Joshua and the subsequent Judges, especially Gideon, Samson, and Samuel, and then of King Saul and King David: It is the Lord who fights for His people, whether with only a few men, or many men; and, where He has spoken, it doesn’t matter if the enemy has hundreds or thousands of soldiers, chariots and horsemen, weapons of bronze, or nine-foot giants.  The battle belongs to the Lord.

By the same token, whenever Israel proceeds apart from the Word and promise of God, then they are soundly defeated and put to flight, like flea-bitten dogs with their tails between their legs.

When it comes right down to it, it’s not the number of people you have lined up on your side, nor the number of dollars in your portfolio, nor the extent of your military savvy, strength, and skill, but the Word and Spirit of God are alone decisive.  When you proceed according to His Word, even in great weakness, you will succeed and prosper; and when you follow your own self-chosen path, apart from His Word, you will fail and fall apart.  Not according to the measure of the world, but according to the divine Wisdom of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Which is to say, that, it may look as though you’ve got the bases covered, but you don’t; whereas, again, when you are being crucified and put to death, and you suffer all manner of hardships and major setbacks, it may be precisely that the Lord is bringing you through these trials and tribulations into glory.

The logic of the Cross is not intuitive or rational; you can’t figure it out by instinct or calculation.  It is something you are taught by the Word-made-Flesh: You learn from Him as you listen to His preaching, and as you follow after Him, and live with Him, on the paradoxical Way of His Cross.

Thus do you learn, from Christ Jesus, that the wealth and ability by which you live and prosper — the ways and means by which you are completed and preserved, rescued and sustained — these are not your own; neither are they in your own power or possession; but they are found in the fear of the Lord, that is, by repentance and faith in His Word, in His commandments and His promises.

The blessing of the Lord your God, the Holy Trinity — His gift of Life and prosperity — is found in Christ the Crucified, the Incarnate Son; in this foolishness of God, which is wiser than man; in this weakness of God, which is stronger than man; in this death of God for the life of the world.

The Cross and Passion of the Christ is the divine blessing by which you are saved.  By contrast, to rely upon your yourself, upon your family and the whole gamut of your possessions, as though to achieve and keep life for yourself by these means, that is the curse of idolatry, sin, and death.  You cannot overcome it, but, ironically, the harder that you try, the more you will succumb to it.  It is both sinful and self-defeating to rely upon yourself and your own assets; for it puts you at odds with God, and you will not be able to withstand Him or survive when He comes against you.

This does not mean that your body and life, your place in the world, your family and friends, and all the stuff that God has put into your hands, is somehow bad or evil.  When the Lord Jesus speaks of “hating” your parents and children, spouse and siblings, for example, He is not describing an emotion or feeling of dislike or disgust, but objective choices and decisions, actions and behaviors, which refuse to worship any other god than the Lord, Yahweh, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The person that you are, the people God has placed around you in the world, and the portion of His creation that He has entrusted to your stewardship in this life on earth, all of this is good and right in its own place.  This is the good salt, of which Jesus speaks, with which the Lord has seasoned you along the way; and it is meant to season the sacrifice that you are to offer unto Him by faith.  Here is what I mean by that: You receive all that you are and have from God’s gracious hand, and you render it all back to Him, to the glory, honor, and praise of His Holy Name.

You should not despise what God has given to you; but neither should you worship and depend upon the creature in the place that belongs to the Creator.  You should neither demonize nor idolize the good gifts of God, but receive them in faith, and sanctify their use by His Word and prayer.  Then the good salt is put to its godly purpose, and your sacrifice is seasoned with thanksgiving.

Attempting to use the salt, instead, to buy or build or battle your way into heaven, is worthless.  Not only does it do you no good, but it also robs the salt of its good worth, and of its saltiness, so that it becomes useless and even detrimental: Not in itself, that is, but in your use of it, or misuse.

The salt is rightly used, as I have said, when it accompanies the sacrifice of yourself unto God; whereby you renounce all reliance on yourself, and you relinquish yourself and all your things to the Lord your God, in the confidence that all good things are from Him, both for now and for ever.

Such is the sacrifice and salt of Jesus Christ, who sets an example for you to follow in His steps.  For in Him is the Way of discipleship, that is, the way of the Cross, of repentance, faith, and love, by which He obtains life and prosperity for you, and for all of His disciples.

He relies not on Himself, but on His Father.  He looks to His Father in faith, and receives all things from Him; and yet, He does not cling to anything, but offers it all up with Himself as a sacrifice.  Indeed, He renounces Himself entirely, and gives Himself up to the Cross, in order to be honored by His Father.  So, He stakes everything on the Glory of God, on the promise of the Resurrection; not for His own advantage or benefit, but for the good of His neighbor, for your sake, in holy love.

He is the one Man who is willing and actually able to pay the cost, to finish the work that He has been given to do, to establish, build, and complete the tower that reaches to the Father in heaven.  But, notice that He finishes the task and pays the price, not with cash or credit, paper or plastic, but with His own holy and precious Blood.  Rather than avoiding embarrassment and the ridicule of the world, He humbles Himself and bears the shame of sinners, in favor of God’s vindication.

He appears to be undone, outnumbered, and overcome: He saved others, and yet, or so it seems, He cannot save Himself.  More to the point, He chooses not to save Himself, nor to exalt Himself, but waits upon the Father to save Him out of death, and to exalt Him in the highest.  He does not build a tower to make a Name for Himself, but He is lifted up on the Cross to the glory of God.  He willingly submits to death, and He suffers Himself to be laughed at, mocked, and made fun of, in order to rely 100% upon the Word and promise of His Father.

Although He has 10,000 angels at His command, any one of which could take out His enemies; and even though He is the “stronger Man,” indeed, the almighty and eternal Son of God, by whom all things are made; still, He defeats the ruler of this world, and He reconciles the world to God, by the voluntary sacrifice of Himself: contrary to every wisdom and strategy of this mortal world.

Rather than crushing His enemies and establishing justice by brute force and raw violence against those who oppose Him, He makes for Peace and Righteousness by His Cross and Resurrection.

And this same Peace and Righteousness is what He gives to you, by His grace, by the delegation of His Gospel: by the preaching of His Cross unto repentance and forgiveness of sins.

As Philemon owed his very life to the Apostle, St. Paul, on account of the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, so does your whole life derive from and depend upon the Gospel of the same Lord.  For as you are crucified with His Cross by the preaching of repentance, so are you raised up with His Resurrection by His free forgiveness of all your sins, unto faith and life and prosperity forever.

By His preaching, the dear Lord Jesus seasons you with the salt of His own sacrifice, so as to preserve you in Himself, and to bring you to His Father in perfect peace and joy; as He Himself has returned to the right hand of the Father in righteousness and holiness, blessedness and glory.

Here, then, receive these holy things, which make for Peace with God: the Word of the Gospel, which absolves you of all your sins, and the Body and Blood of your Savior, Christ Jesus, given and poured out for you, for your life and salvation.

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

01 September 2013

He Humbles Himself to Honor You

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

It was not lawful for King Herod to have his brother’s wife, as we heard from St. John the Baptist this past week.  And it is not lawful for you to pursue your own ambitions to the neglect of God and at your neighbor’s expense.  But, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

The Lord Jesus aims at something deeper, with this question, than whether it is against the rules, or defensible by way of some loophole or legal technicality.  It’s not about what He may excuse or get away with, but, rather, what the Sabbath really means and signifies.

What is “lawful” is what the Lord intends: His good and acceptable will, which centers in divine grace and His desire to give Life to those whom He has created and calls to Himself.  Behind and beyond what He commands and prohibits, is the saving work of God Himself, who calls you out of slavery into freedom; who declares that He is your God, and that you are His own dear child.

The fulfillment of the Law, and of the Sabbath commandment in particular, is the Life that God gives you in Christ Jesus, which you receive by His grace, through faith in His Gospel, and which you live in love for your neighbor.

To heal and give life, to rescue from a well, to feed the hungry, to welcome the stranger and the outcast, to visit the sick and imprisoned, to clothe the naked, and to forgive sins, that is more than “okay” on the Sabbath: It is the Sabbath that remains for the people of God in Christ, our Savior.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Lawful One, who not only keeps the Sabbath Day perfectly, but brings it to completion for you and for all people.  By His labor of love, He gives you peace and rest.  And this He does by faith in His Father.  For He receives all things from God, and He gives it all to His neighbor: That is how the Sabbath is rightly kept, and in Him it has been established eternally.

He humbles Himself in the confidence that His Father will exalt Him.  For He knows Himself to be the beloved Son, according to the Word and promise of His Baptism; and He knows Himself, also, to be the Ox that pulls the plow, who will become the whole burnt offering for the people; so He trusts that His God and Father will pull Him up out of the well, and give Him Sabbath Rest.

It is this righteousness of faith in His Father, which He exercises and manifests in love for you and all His neighbors.  He takes the last place for Himself, in order to exalt and serve His companions.

Not for His own advantage or benefit does He do what He does, but in order to honor you, to give you life and peace and rest.  He needs nothing, anyway, since all that belongs to His Father is His; nor could anyone give anything to Him, but He gives everything He has to care for everyone else.

He’s not attempting to curry favor from God or man, but, by faith in His Father, He favors you in loving kindness.  In all His actions — His coming in the flesh, His compassion for sinners, His going to the Cross, His suffering, and His sacrificial death — none of it is a pretense, nor a strategy for Self-advancement.  There is no hidden agenda here, no false humility; neither a charade, nor an act of passive aggression, but pure love, and the Self-sacrifice of pure divine mercy for you.

It is difficult to comprehend, and it is hard for you to understand and take to heart, because it is so different from the way your sinful heart and mind are wired.  Your words and actions are so often a case of promoting and protecting yourself.  Much of what you do is not lawful, even when you follow the rules to the letter, and even at your best; because you are driven by pride and a desire for praise, or you are paralyzed by despair and a fear of criticism, instead of being guided and governed by the fear of the Lord, by faith in His Word, and by love for God and your neighbor.

But the Lord Christ has come, not to condemn you, but to save you from yourself and your disease, from all of your enemies, and from your own sin and death.  Therefore, He comes and takes hold of you.  He embraces you with tender affection.  He heals you and frees you from your infirmities of body and soul.  He pulls you out of the hole you’ve fallen into, and He raises you up on high in the presence of His God and Father, in His own righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Behold, this is what He has done for you: He has come to share your place and your predicament, in order to give you His place of honor at the Table.  He humbles Himself, in order to exalt you.

He comes to live here, in this mortal coil on earth, even unto death, for the sake of the eternal city of God in heaven; that is, to make a permanent place and a home for you there in that City of God.

You cannot repay Him.  You are not able to do so, and He needs nothing from you.  But that is the point: He receives everything from His Father, and He gives everything to you in divine love.

Even the reward that He receives in His Resurrection and Ascension, is, for Christ Jesus, simply a return to His own rightful place at the Right Hand of the Father; but, for you, it is your true Sabbath Rest, your rescue from sin, your resurrection from death, and your righteousness forever.

It is the Glory of God to conceal this great Salvation under the Cross of Christ, and the Glory of your King, the same Lord Jesus Christ, to reveal this great Mystery by the preaching of the Gospel.

For He has received the place of honor at the Wedding Feast, and now He honors you with that honor of His, by inviting you to join Him, to take your place beside Him, to recline at His Table and to be fed from His hand.  Here He sanctifies you with His sacrificial Blood, and He feeds you from His Altar with His own sacrificial Flesh.  In the presence of God and all of creation, He says to you: “Dear Friend, come up higher.  Here is the place I have prepared for you, the reward of the Righteous, which I give to you.  Come, enter into My rest, and be at peace.”

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