27 October 2013

Going Home Justified in Christ

Fathers, teach your sons and daughters to pray, to worship the Lord, and to sacrifice themselves in faith toward Him, and in love for each other and for their neighbors in the world.  Do not wait to do it, but teach them to pray already while they are yet little babies, even in the womb and at their mother’s breast, by praying for them and with them.

Teach your children to worship the Lord their God by teaching them His Word: by speaking it to them, and confessing it both for them and with them.  And teach them by the example of your own worship of faith and love.  Go to church, and take your children with you.  Do not hinder or prevent them, but indoctrinate them with God’s Word and the preaching of it.

Bring your children to the Lord Jesus, that He may touch them, heal them, and save them: in the waters of Holy Baptism, and with His own Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.  Then also teach them to pray in the remembrance of their Baptism, and in the confession of Christ the Crucified, by teaching them to make the sign of the Cross, especially when they are afraid, but also when they rejoice in His rescue and give thanks for His great salvation.

Teach your sons and daughters to sacrifice themselves in the faith and confidence of Christ, and in love for their neighbors, by the example of your own self-sacrifice.  Set aside your own wants, desires and pleasures, in order to meet their needs and care for them.  Love their mother and lay down your life for her, day by day, as Christ Jesus loves His Bride and gives Himself freely for her.  So may your sons and daughters learn from you, not only what it means to be a godly husband or wife, a godly man or woman, but what it is to be a Christian, a member of Christ’s Church and a child of His God and Father.

Teach your children humility by humbling yourself.  Teach them to master their sin by your own self-discipline and daily repentance.  Teach them to fall upon the mercies of God in Christ by confessing your own sins and availing yourself of the Gospel, the means of grace and forgiveness, including Holy Absolution.  Let such confession and absolution shape and define your Christian faith and life, your piety and practice, not only in church but also in your home and in all of your relationships.

Where you have done wrong, acknowledge your fault, apologize, and make amends as you are able.  And where others have sinned against you, be ready and willing, eager and quick to forgive them — and gladly do good to them.

Where you have sinned against your children — by harshness or neglect, by impatience or inattentiveness, by unreasonable demands or unfair punishments, or by whatever fault of temper, words, or actions — humble yourself under the Lord your God, apologize to your children, who are also His dear children, and seek their forgiveness.

Do not seek to justify or excuse yourself, but let Christ alone by your Savior and Redeemer; and so love all your neighbors, big and small, both young and old, family, friends, and foes, the brilliant and the daft, the successful and pathetic, all for Jesus’ sake.  For they, too, shall be saved, not by any righteousness, merit, or worthiness of their own, but solely by the righteousness and mercy of Christ Jesus — the very same righteousness and mercy, of the same Lord Jesus Christ, by which alone you are justified and saved from sin, death, the devil and hell.  That fact is, or it ought to be, your humility and confidence of repentant faith.

If you exalt yourself — if you trust in yourself and your own righteousness, as though you were a god — you will be humbled.  Pray that you are so humbled before the Day of Judgment, when the time of repentance shall have passed.  Pray that the Lord in His mercy would humble you now, and each and every day of your life on earth, by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins, and that He would then exalt you in His peace.

When you understand that your life is from God, that it depends entirely upon Him, that He gives you life by His divine grace, and that He preserves your life, not only here in time but unto all eternity — by that same divine grace in Christ Jesus — then you know the meaning of life, and you are able to live before God in peace and hope, in faith and love, in graceful confidence and joyful satisfaction.

When you don’t get it — when you have not been humbled unto repentance and faith in the mercies of God — when you exalt yourself and attempt to justify yourself — then you are hounded and driven by fear.  You have no peace or joy, no confidence or satisfaction.  Not really.  You strive to keep the Law, according to its letter, or to avoid it as much as possible, while you tend to yourself and your own personal ambitions.  But the Lord has no regard for your self-righteousness.  He takes no pleasure in your selfish works, and He has no delight in your sacrifice when it is offered as a bribe or as a buyout for your sin.

The harder you try to appease the Lord God or to pay Him off, in an effort to get Him off your back, the worse and worse your situation becomes. Your self-righteous pride, indignation, laziness, and greed continue to grow, more and more, until they threaten to swallow you up and consume you altogether.  Such things are the heart and soul of sin, which entices and allures you, and yet, all the while, it is really killing and destroying you.

In the futile agitation of your own self-defeating efforts, you grow more and more restless and angry with God.  He’s so unfair, you suppose.  He just doesn’t like you, or so it seems.  It’s not your fault.  Right?  You’re doing your bit.  But, since you can’t get even with God, and you cannot possibly compete with Him, you turn your anger and enmity, your hatred and vengeance against your neighbor.  You give yourself over to envy and jealousy and bitter resentment, to the point that you lash out at your neighbor, perhaps even your nearest and dearest kin, with hurtful words, or schemes to rob and steal, or outright bodily injury.

Make no mistake, as a child of Adam, such sin is always crouching at your door, and its desire is for you.  Resist it, and master it, by contrition, repentance and self-discipline.  Hear and heed the Word of the Lord, and honor His commandments.  Love your neighbor by helping him, and by doing him no harm in word or deed.  Examine yourself honestly, and confess your sins, so that you might hear and receive the blessed Gospel of forgiveness.

Pray that God, the Lord, would have mercy upon you, so that you might live by His grace and rest in His peace.  Trust Him to provide you with all that you need, for both body and soul, for this life and the life everlasting.  And so understand that your possessions, your abilities, your time and energy, your treasures and talents and your whole life on earth are a sacred trust, a stewardship, which you have been given for the sake of likewise loving and serving your neighbor in the name of the Lord.

That is how you sacrifice your crops and herds, your goods and services, your body and life: In faith toward God, you love your neighbor with all that you are and have; because your life is entirely from the Lord, in Him and with Him, and it is lived unto Him at all times.

You are your brother’s keeper, beloved, as the Lord is your Keeper, your Maker and Redeemer.  If you are poured out as a drink offering for your neighbor, therefore, keep the faith and finish the course in peace, as the Lord Jesus pours out His life-blood for you.  Give your body as a living sacrifice, and feed and clothe, shelter and protect your neighbor’s body, as the Lord Jesus feeds you with His own Body and Blood, clothes you with His righteousness, and shelters and protects you by His grace within His holy Christian Church.

The same Lord Jesus stands with you in all hardship and adversity, in all your trials and temptations.  He forgives you all your sins and failings, strengthens your faith and love, guards and keeps your body and soul, and He will deliver you from every evil and bring you safely into His heavenly kingdom.  Surely He will do so, and crown you with His own righteousness, because He has humbled Himself unto death and given Himself for you; wherefore His own God and Father has highly exalted Him, and has given Him the Name above every name.  In Him, you also are exalted, and are so named by God.

As Christ has died for you, and risen from the dead for you, and as He ever lives to intercede for you before the Throne of God — as He, your merciful and great High Priest, has entered the Holy of Holies made without hands, on your behalf, with His most holy and precious blood — so does He bring you home, justified by His grace, through faith in His Gospel.

The Body of this dear Lord, Jesus Christ, is the Altar upon which you offer your sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.  Not that you should thereby atone for your sins, but you give Him thanks and praise because He has atoned for all your sins, once and for all.

It is in Him, and through Him, and with Him, and by Him, that you and your children, and your children’s children, pray and worship and sacrifice.  So are you and yours received as a pleasing sacrifice and sweet-smelling incense by your dear God and Father in heaven.  He has regard for you, for your prayer and sacrifice, for Jesus’ sake.  He lifts you up in mercy and sustains you by His grace, even through death and the grave, unto the life everlasting.

In order that you be kept safe in this life and salvation forever, the Lord has set His mark upon you, His sign of the Cross upon your forehead and your heart, on your body and your soul.  Though you are a sinner, deserving of nothing but the punishment of death and eternal damnation, yet, by this sign of the Cross, the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh are served notice that you belong to Christ the Crucified, your Savior and Redeemer.  He shall not only avenge whatever wrong is done to you, but He forgives whatever wrong that you have done; and at the last He shall vindicate you forever in the resurrection of your body.

Even though you die, yet shall you live forever and always.  Indeed, the Kingdom of God belongs to such as you, for you are His own beloved son or daughter in Christ Jesus.

Come up here, then, to this Temple of Christ Jesus; receive the holy Body with which He feeds you and the drink-offering of His own precious Blood; and pray in the peace and confidence of His sure mercies and forgiveness.  Offer here your sacrifice of thanksgiving, take up the Cup of Salvation, and call on the Name of the Lord.  He hears and answers your prayers, dear little child of God, for you are justified by the Lord, the righteous Judge.

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

20 October 2013

For You He Strives and Wrestles

When the Son of Man comes, He will find faith on earth.  For those whom He has chosen, He has also called to Himself by the preaching of the Gospel.  And those whom He has called, He justifies by grace through faith in His forgiveness of sins; and that, not of yourself, it is the gift of God.

In calling you to this faith, He teaches you to pray, not in doubt or desperation, but in confidence.  Therefore, do not grow weary or lose heart; for the Lord your God is faithful.  He hears your cry, and He will answer your prayer.  He will vindicate you in due season, and give you His justice.

You do not have to wear Him down or twist His arm to help you.  Nor could you ever do so!  You could not prevail over the Lord, except that He persists in patience and prevails over you.

Nor does He give you the justice that you deserve, which would be death and damnation.  But He justifies you with the Righteousness of Christ, and so delivers you from your adversary, the devil.

In the case of Jacob, who has been a deceiver like the devil (when he lied to his father, Isaac, and stole his brother Esau’s blessing), the Lord now humbles him and teaches him to pray: To cling to the Lord Himself, to call upon His Name, and to seek the blessing of His Word and promise.

And in this same Jacob, the Lord points to the Christ who will come from his loins, that is, to the promised Seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — the Incarnate Lord, who is both God and Man — who will strive and wrestle on behalf of all men, and will prevail by faith in His God and Father.

His hip, and all of His bones, will be put out of joint in His Crucifixion, when the hands of sinful men will cruelly nail His hands and feet to the hard wood of the Cross; whereby, no one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down willingly, and He entrusts Himself entirely to God, and offers up Himself for you and for all the nations, even to the ends of the earth.

Not that it is easy for Him.  Not at all.  But in the agony of His Passion — from the Upper Room to the Garden, to the Sanhedrin and the Praetorium, and finally from Gabbatha to Golgotha — He prays in steadfast faith, with loud crying and tears, to the One who is able to save Him out of death.  And He is heard because of His piety.

So surely has God the Father vindicated His beloved Son, and has raised this same Jesus from the dead, in order to justify you and all the world, and so to draw you to Himself in perfect peace.

Even now, as He has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, this Lord Jesus Christ ever lives to make intercession for you at the Right Hand of the Father in heaven.  Think of that:  The Son of God is always praying for you!  Not only that, but He is your Prayer — in His own Person, in His own flesh and blood — as He is your merciful and great High Priest forevermore.

Therefore, the Son of Man “finds faith on earth,” first of all by establishing it in Himself, in His own human flesh, by His perfect obedience, even unto death; so that His own faith and faithfulness as the Son of God, your Savior — His prayer and His sacrifice, His Cross and Resurrection — all of these avail for you: In heaven, yes, before His God and Father, but also here on earth through His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.

In this faith of His, and by this preaching, He teaches you to pray: What to pray, and How to pray, and also, That you should so pray, at all times and in all place, in the confidence and certainty of His own crucified and risen flesh.  Indeed, His Resurrection is already God’s “Amen!” to your prayer.

He teaches you to pray, therefore, by His Word of the Cross, and by your bearing of His Cross after Him, as a Christian disciple; so that you are crucified, dead, and buried to yourself, and so that you learn to look to Him, instead of yourself, and to cling to Him, and to call upon His holy Name.

He puts your hip out of joint, as it were.  He knocks all your props out from under you, and He deprives you of all other help and comfort, in order that you would rely on Him alone, and fear, love, and trust in Him above everything else.  Because, in truth, there is no other god to save you.

That is why the poor widow keeps coming to that unrighteous judge and asking him to give her justice, to vindicate her, and to protect her and deliver her from her opponent.  It’s certainly not because that guy is such a gem!  Hardly!  But simply because of her great need, and because she has no other help and nowhere else to turn.  She really has no choice but to keep bothering him.

Even in this day and age, to go from being a wife to being a widow is difficult and disorienting.  Whatever your husband used to do and take care of for you, now you’re either going to do without, or do it yourself.  You learn how to manage, in order to survive.  But it isn’t easy, and it isn’t fun.  The fact remains that you have lost your head, and there is no other man on earth to take his place.

Practically speaking, in first century Palestine, a widow was in a precarious situation, especially if she had no father, brother, or son to advocate for her, to represent her interests and defend her.  Evidently, that’s the case for this poor widow in the Parable that Jesus tells you here: She has no other man to help her, except this unrighteous judge, who has no reverence for God nor any respect for people.  He does not want to help her.  And she probably doesn’t want to keep coming to him and asking for his help.  You can imagine how that makes her feel!  But she has no other choice.

And the whole point is, that, neither do you!  Not really.  What you do have is an adversary who is always accusing you, both day and night; actively assaulting your conscience; allowing you to have no rest, within or without; but doggedly attacking you, and constantly threatening to rob you of everything you have, to deprive you of your health and strength, and of your very life itself.

And there is only One Judge who has the authority to acquit you, who is able to preserve your life, and who can set you free, forevermore, from sin and death and every evil of body and soul.  He is, to be sure, not unrighteous, inhumane, or ungodly.  By no means!  But the bottom line remains, in any event, that there is no one else who can save you from your dire straits and vindicate you against your adversary.  Which is why His elect cry out to Him day and night; even as Christ and His Spirit are always interceding for you, and crying to the Father on your behalf.  It is necessary.

But consider how easy it is for you to forget all that, to let go of God altogether, to be slack in your worship and prayers, and to put your trust and confidence in all kinds of others things: To pursue other possibilities; to fear and love other gods; and to hope in yourself and your own ingenuity.

Left to your own devices, you do not wrestle like Jacob; nor do you persist like that poor widow.

Yet, the good news is, that you are not left to yourself.  No, the Lord’s elect cry out to Him both day and night — not because they have mustered the energy and wherewithal, the nerve, and the faith to raise themselves up by their own devices — but precisely because the Lord has chosen them in mercy, and has chased them down and found them for Himself.  He has called them, by His Word, to repent and believe the Gospel, and He has put His own Word and Spirit in them by that same Gospel; that they might cling to Him and call on Him in hope, and be saved by Him.

So has He done for you.  Before you ever knew Him, or thought to call on Him, He has known you and loved you.  He has called you by name — and has revealed and given His own Name to you.

He has also laid the Cross upon you.  Not to crush you and destroy you forever, but to break you of your idolatry, and to teach you to know Him rightly, the true and only God, who has Himself been crucified for your transgressions, and has been raised again for your justification.

Christ gathers you up in Himself, in His crucified and risen Body, in His flesh and blood (which are given and poured out for you), in order to bear you to the Father as a beloved son or daughter.

It is this relationship of Father and child, of faith and love, of blessed peace and Sabbath rest in the household and family of God, that He is always aiming at in all of His dealings with you.

When He lays the Cross upon you — when He exposes your sin and accuses you with His Law; and when He allows and uses even the devil to assault you (though Satan seeks only to harm you) — the Lord is actually at work to bring you back to life, to drive you from your sin and death, and to bring you safely to Himself, that is, to your own dear God and Father in Christ Jesus.

The Cross removes all self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and leaves you with no other recourse, no other help or hope, but to call on the Name of the Lord, and to prevail upon His promises; so that, according to His Word, you refuse to let go of Him, because you dare not, lest you perish!

Even though it seems for awhile that He Himself is your Adversary and Opponent — and the fact of that matter is, that, for a time, He is! — nevertheless, you are made bold by your great need, to demand of Him the blessing that He has sworn to you by His own Name (in your Holy Baptism):

For He has given you His oath, that He will be with you always; that He will never abandon you.

Therefore, instead of becoming discouraged or giving up, you persist in coming back, and calling on the Lord your God both day and night; because He is your God, your Savior, who declares you to be righteous for the sake of His beloved Son, and who will thus raise even you from the dead.

His own Word of the Law does put you to death: to your family and friends, and even to yourself.  Thus are you an orphan and a widow of that old man, Adam, who is mortal and subject to death because of his sin (his unbelief).  But that is not the end of the story.  That is only the beginning.

For, now, this New and Perfect Man, Christ Jesus, the Second Adam, has come down from heaven to earth, and has become your Advocate and Defender, your Defense Attorney, who pleads for you with His own Body and Life.  He will not be denied, and you will not be thrown out or cast off.

As you pray in His Name, by faith, you are in Him; for you are baptized into Him, into both His Cross and His Resurrection.  In Him you have a new Husband and Head.  Which means that you are no longer widowed and bereft of any man to help you.  Nor are you orphaned and left alone; because God Himself has become your true Father in Christ Jesus, and you are truly His own child.

It is “in His Name” that you pray; and for Jesus’ sake you are heard, and your prayer is answered.

This Righteous Judge to whom you make your appeal is not deaf to your plea.  He does not despise you, and He will not cast you away from His presence.  He actually desires to help you.  It is His good and gracious will to save you, in body and soul, for the life everlasting.

The very fact that you come to Him and call on Him is indicative of His grace and mercy toward you.  For He has called you by His Word and Spirit through the Gospel, enlightened you with His good gifts, and sanctified you in the waters of your Baptism.  And He still keeps you in that faith.

It is a trustworthy saying: His Kingdom comes, and so does He, even without your prayer.  But He has taught you to pray in this way — at all times, and not to lose heart — as He Himself always prays for you — that He and His Kingdom should come to you also; and that you should thereby live with Him in His Kingdom, in His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, forever and ever.

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

13 October 2013

This Foreigner Is Found to the Glory of God

Lepers were the zombies of the biblical world.  But not in the way you might think.  Nowadays, when leprosy is mentioned or portrayed, it’s usually in parody, in a rather odd attempt at humor.  Bad jokes abound concerning body parts falling off, and rotting flesh, and it does begin to sound like a zombie apocalypse.  But what these depictions have in mind is really one particular illness, Hansen’s Disease, which is no laughing matter for those who suffer from it; nor for their families.

In the Bible, though, what is typically called “leprosy” is probably more akin to modern eczema, and seems to cover a fairly broad range of skin conditions.  It wasn’t debilitating or life-threatening in the way that Hansen’s Disease is, so a person might live with “leprosy” for many, many years.

Yet, to be a leper in the biblical world was a kind of living death, and to be viewed and treated almost like a zombie.  The leper was unclean, according to the Law of God, and was therefore cut off from the community and fellowship of Israel: from both church and state, and from society.  That seems harsh and unfair, but it belongs to the impurity of this fallen world in contrast to the holiness of God.  The outward blemish of “leprosy” made visible the inward sickness of sin.

Which is not to say that lepers alone were sinful; but they bore in their skin the sickness of us all.  And on account of that, they were separated from everyone else, as though they were corpses, already dead and buried.  They were, to say it bluntly, excommunicated from the temple worship, and outlawed from the public life of the city, town, or village.  Strangers and aliens.  Foreigners.

Except that, now, the Lord Jesus Christ has drawn near to those who were far off.  He has entered into the living death of our sin; into the darkness at the edge of town; into the zombie land of this fallen world, in order to bring us out of death into real life with Himself, into communion with God and man.  He has come to cleanse our hearts by faith in His forgiveness of all our sin; and so to cleanse our souls and bodies, too, our spirits and our skin.

This rescue and salvation has arrived in His own Body of flesh and blood, as He proceeds on the Way of the Cross up to Jerusalem, to bear the sins of the world in His own skin and bones.  For He is both our great High Priest in all things pertaining to God, and the final perfect Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the world.  And He has come for this purpose: in order to have mercy.

It is, therefore, a prayer of faith in the Word and promise of the Son of God, when those ten leprous men call upon His Holy Name, and cry out to Him for mercy: for grace to help in their great need.  It is by faith, as well, that they all respond immediately in obedience to the Word that He speaks.

The Lord Jesus sends them to the priests; which is to say, He sends them to the ways and means of grace that God the Lord has provided for His Old Testament people.  In much the same way, He sends you to your pastors, who carry out the Ministry of the Gospel, in His Name and stead, by the preaching of His Word and the administration of His Sacraments, in His Church on earth.

It is in the Ministry of the Word and works of God that cleansing, health, and strength are found; because that is where and how the Lord bestows His Life-giving Spirit upon His people.

For Jesus to send those ten lepers to the priests implies that they will healed; for that is what the rubrics in Leviticus describe: Those who have been unclean because of their leprosy, if it comes about that they are healed of that skin disease, they are then to present themselves to the priests to be examined, their healing to be verified, and then to be cleansed and readmitted into fellowship.

The cleansing, then, according to the Word of the Lord in the Law of Moses, is accomplished by the rites and ceremonies instituted by God for those who have been healed of their leprosy.

This cleansing occurs in two distinct stages: The first part occurs outside of the camp, where the priest takes two birds, and he kills the one in order to drain its blood into a bowl of water, and he dips the other bird, the one that is still living, into the water and the blood; he also sprinkles the water and the blood seven times upon the person to be cleansed; and then the priest sets free the living bird in an open field, allowing it to fly away to its own nest.  Then the person who is being cleansed must wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and bathe his body in water.  So shall he be clean, and he may enter the camp, but for the first week he still may not enter into his own tent.  At this point he is still on the boundary, on the border between being “in” and being “out.”

The second stage of cleansing is undertaken on the seventh day: Then the person being cleansed again must wash his clothes, and shave off all the hair from his entire body, and once more bathe his body in water.  Afterwards, on the eighth day (!), he brings two unblemished male lambs, and one unblemished ewe lamb, and a grain offering of fine flour, and a quantity of oil, and the priest brings him and his offering to the doorway of the Tent of Meeting: to the Tabernacle or Temple.

The cleansing of the former leper is completed with the offering of these several sacrifices: for reparation (because leprosy was associated especially with sacrilege), for purification from sin, and for atonement and reconciliation with God.  Significantly, the person is anointed with the blood of the sacrifice, and with the oil, after it has been dedicated to the Lord, in much the same way that the priests were consecrated for service; for the one who was unclean is thereby fully restored to the fellowship of Israel, which is a priestly communion, a holy nation of God’s own possession.

These are the rites and ceremonies included in the Word of Jesus, when He sends those ten men to the priests.  And as, once before, when He sent the waiters at a wedding with six stone jars to the master of the feast, and the water in the jars became wine; so now here, in their going to the priests as He commanded, the leprous men are healed of their leprosy.  So it is that they are also cleansed by the ministry of the priests, once they have confirmed that the healing has occurred.

Okay, great.  But, now what happens in the case of the Samaritan?  He is healed of his leprosy, and he is cleansed to the extent that he is able to return to the life of the village; but he is still not going to be welcomed into the fellowship of Israel.  He is still a “foreigner.”  So, when his bird is let go, released into the open field, where is he supposed to go?  What shall he do?  Where will be home?

The Samaritan may not have much choice, but, the fact remains, he gets it right: He “flies” right back to Christ Jesus.  And in that Man from Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God, that bird finds a nest in the Lord’s Altar: He finds the true Priest, the true Sacrifice, and the true Temple of God.

For this Lord Jesus Christ has made complete reparation for all the sacrilege and desecration of the entire creation.  With His holy and precious blood, and by His innocent suffering and death, He has made atonement for the sins of all the sons and daughters of Adam.  And in His Resurrection from the dead, God the Lord has reconciled the whole world to Himself in the Person of His Son.

There is, therefore, no longer any other sacrifice for sin: It is not possible; neither is it necessary.  But in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen, you have now been found, and you are returned to God.

It is in and through Him that you now offer the one sacrifice that remains for the people of God, that is, the sacrifice of thanksgiving; and you partake of the true Holy Communion in His Peace.

Once you were a foreigner, cut off, far removed, and separated from the one true God; no less so than that Samaritan was, before Jesus came along.  You also have been sinful and unclean, in your thoughts, words, and deeds, in your body and your soul; no less so than any of those leprous men.

But now, beloved, you are healed in body and soul, cleansed and sanctified, within and without, by the washing of the water with the Word of Christ, by the forgiveness of His Blood, and by the anointing of His Holy Spirit in the Gospel: No matter what your skin may look like on the outside, in truth you are without any blemish, spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; and your body also shall be made new in the Resurrection, glorious, immortal, and imperishable, like the Body of Christ.

Baptized into His Cross and Resurrection, into His perfect Sacrifice, you are set free from the bonds of sin and death: released like that living bird, set on the wing in the wide open fields of the New Creation.  “Rise, and go,” Jesus says.  For you are no zombie.  You are made alive in Christ.

You are set free, indeed.  But you are also given a home and a family, a place in the community of God’s holy people, a place of safety, peace, and rest, in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

Truth be told, everything centers in this one Lord, Jesus Christ.  Everything hinges and turns on Him.  In Him is your life and your salvation, which is nothing else and nothing less than the Life everlasting of the Holy Triune God.  That divine, eternal Life is yours in Christ.

And so it is, that you glorify the one true God, as that healed Samaritan did, by worshiping Christ and giving thanks to Him.  With your heart and mind, your body and soul, your words and actions, you worship and adore Him by faith.  Which is to say, that you look to Him for mercy, and you call upon His Name; you hear and believe His Word to you, and you live according to it; you receive His good gifts in peace, and you return thanks for all His benefits by the confession of His Name.

No longer are you a foreigner.  A stranger and an alien on earth, yes, but not a foreigner from God.

For you have been given a new birth, another genealogy: You are a child of God in Christ, by virtue of your Baptism into Him, so that you belong to the household and family of His Father.

By His grace, you cling to this Lord Jesus Christ, as Ruth clung to Naomi and refused to let go; and everything that belongs to Him, is now also yours: His Father, His Spirit, His Name, and His Life.  Therefore, lay hold of Him here in His Gospel, in the Word that He preaches to you, and in His Body and His Blood, which He gives to you freely, and generously pours out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Rejoice in His salvation, and give Him thanks and praise.

For God is glorified in Him, who has come to you and met you in mercy.  God is glorified in Him, because He lays hold of you in love, and clings to you, and cleaves to you, the Bridegroom to His Bride, forever and ever: Even death itself shall never be able to separate you from Him.

The One who promises is faithful: He will do what He has spoken.  As He sends you to the priests, you may be sure that you are healed on the way, and so shall you be saved in both body and soul.  It is the Lord Himself who sends you on this path, even as He calls you to Himself.  He cannot and will not deny Himself, nor can His Word be broken.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.

As God the Father raised this same Jesus from the dead, and receives Him into glory at His right hand in the heavenly places, so does He raise you up through the Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins.  He receives you to Himself in the blessed Peace and Sabbath Rest of Christ, and so shall He glorify your body and your soul, your skin and bones, your flesh and blood, your heart, mind, and spirit, with His own eternal Life.  This is most certainly true.

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

06 October 2013

The Mulberry Tree and the Deep Blue Sea

Temptations to sin will come.  It is impossible to avoid them.  You live in a fallen and perishing world, a mortal child of sinful Adam.  The devil hates you and assaults both your body and your conscience with great wrath.  The kingdoms of this world entice you with their fake and fleeting glory.  And your flesh hungers for life and health and strength without knowing where to find it.

Be on your guard, therefore.  By the Word and Spirit of Christ, resist temptation and flee from it; that is, fill your ears, your heart and mind, your hands and mouth, with His Word and His good gifts.  Occupy yourself with the life-giving things of your Lord, and give no room to the devil.

And do not be a cause of temptation and stumbling to your brothers and sisters in Christ.  That is to multiply sin upon sin, and to bring death and destruction upon the children of God.  But, don’t.  Do not conspire with the world to entice your neighbor with addictions and vices and idolatries; nor adopt the Satanic accusation of the neighbor who is already bent and broken under his sins.

Rather, repent of your own sin.  Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God.  Turn away from the evil you have done, and do the good that your Lord has commanded.  Let your flesh be daily drowned and destroyed in the ocean depths of your Baptism, in order to be cleansed and sanctified.

In that humility of repentance, and in the confidence and gratitude of your Lord’s forgiveness, restore your fallen brother, or your sister who has stumbled, in a spirit of gentleness and peace.  As you have been rescued from the death and damnation you deserve, so rescue your neighbor.

This is the very opposite of causing one of these little ones to stumble.  It is not politically correct; nor is it to be confused with the sort of “judging” that the Holy Scriptures warn you against.  But the rescue of your neighbor is a twofold taking seriously of sin and addressing it with the Word of the Lord: First of all, by rebuking sin, and second, by forgiving your neighbor for Jesus’ sake.

To “judge” your neighbor is to accuse and condemn; and this, itself, is often a cause of stumbling.  But to “rebuke” your brother or sister, as the Lord Jesus instructs you to do, is to give a warning to the one who is in danger, and to call for repentance, that is, to return to the safety of the Gospel.

Judgment is rightly exercised on earth by those who are given the authority and responsibility to maintain justice, especially for the protection of the weak and the helpless.  The final and eternal judgment of the living and the dead belongs to the Lord alone.  But the rebuke of a brother who sins, in the fear of the Lord, with humility and gentleness, is an exercise of real love.  It is neither fun nor easy, but it is a precious thing to snatch from the flames the one who has fallen into sin.

Because the goal is salvation, you rebuke for the sake of repentance, and you readily forgive the one who repents.  Seven times a day, Jesus says.  And seventy times seven times over.  Without any bitterness, cynical despair, impatience, or resentment.  You forgive, because Christ forgives.

And that is hard, to say the least.  The whole idea and enterprise is impossibly difficult.  There are those who drive you to despair with their incorrigible ways.  You’d rather wring their necks than forgive them, yet again, and give them another chance, when they’ve already burned you before.  Besides, your reason, wisdom, and past experience tell you that nothing is ever going to change.

No wonder the Apostles cry out to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  How else shall they or you put up with it and persist in loving the recalcitrant neighbor who keeps on stumbling and falling into the same old patterns?  It’s no picnic to rebuke sin in the first place, and often not well received.

Pastors, in particular, like the Apostles before them, are tempted to despair, and to suppose that their preaching of repentance is in vain.  The soil they plow is rocky and hard and resistant.  The sheep they tend are stubborn and prone to wander away into danger.  No one seems to care, and positive “results” are few and far between, outnumbered by apparent “lost causes” and disasters.  They look around in dismay and see that righteousness is pummeled by wickedness and violence.

You, likewise, are tempted to despair in your vocation.  You go about your duties and do your job, but it doesn’t seem to matter or make any difference.  You love and serve your neighbor, but your neighbor doesn’t care, and he or she doesn’t respond with similar love and affection for you.  No one notices the work you’ve done; nor do things turn out quite the way you intended and hoped.

Alright, then, but here’s the deal: Your Lord hasn’t called you to work for a paycheck, far less for the praise of men.  Nor has He called you to accomplish and achieve whatever great things you aspire to.  No, He has called you to live and to work to the glory of His Holy Name, and to do so by faith in His Word and promise — a promise, so sure and so certain, it is more solid than gold.

Though it may not appear to be the case (it often doesn’t), the Word of the Lord has the power to rescue and restore the one who has stumbled, and to accomplish the good and gracious will of God, by the way and the means of His own Cross and Resurrection.  That is the contradiction that defies you and your proud reason, not with malice, but with the grace of free forgiveness and salvation.

So, then, stand fast; stay at your post, and stick to your guns, and simply do your job in the peace and confidence of Christ.  Wait upon His Word, and trust that He will bring it to fulfillment in due season.  That is to say, not only will He plant the seed and make it grow, and feed and water the sheep in His green pastures and from His streams of living water; He will also raise up the fallen.

Many of you may already know that a mulberry tree has deep and extensive roots.  It really digs in, and is potentially destructive to nearby structures.  Mulberry trees were not to be planted within 75 feet of a cistern, because they were likely to invade it with their roots and take it over.

But the Word of the Lord is able to uproot the mulberry tree, and to plant it in the sea.  Which is to say that He is able to disentangle and let go the baggage and patterns of addictions, of shameful vices and besetting sins, both in you and in your neighbor.  He is able to uproot the one who sins, and the one who has caused others to stumble and fall, and to plant them in the depths of the sea.

The roots of sin have been searching for water — seeking life — but they have done so by digging deeper and deeper into the ground: returning to the dust from which man was taken, and clinging fiercely to death and the grave, as though it were the answer to your problems and your needs.

Confronting that perversity in yourself and others seems utterly daunting and pointless.

Yet, again, the Word of the Lord does exceedingly more than you could ever hope or imagine.  The preaching of repentance shatters the dirt and scatters the dust to which the roots cling.  And the blessed speaking of forgiveness, patient and persistent, again and again, grants the life that has been missing.  But all of this by the Way of the Cross, which is scary and surprising.

The mulberry tree is ripped out of the soil and thrown into the sea, and surely that is certain death.  Exactly so!  You were searching for the water of life, and now you’re drowning in it, first of all.  That is the way of repentance: You die, in order to live.  The water fills you up and saturates you, cleansing you from sin and every evil, from the inside out, and immersing you entirely into Christ.

It is the Word that does it: Even a very little faith, like a mustard seed, if it lays hold of that Word and speaks what God the Lord has spoken, so shall it be.  Your faith itself is a gift of God, by the preaching and hearing of the Word of Christ; so do not doubt that His Word will do as He says.

Therefore, if your brother sins, rebuke him — in the faith of Christ, and in love for your brother.  And do not throw up your hands in despair and give up, if it seems to do no good; but neither be surprised when your brother repents, acknowledges his sin, and seeks forgiveness.  Where the roots have been allowed to grow unchecked, and they are numerous and deep, it may require seven times a day that you rebuke, and he repents, and you forgive: But, rest assured that Christ will prevail.

So, too, whatever the work that He has given you to do, be patient and persistent in that labor, in the confidence that Christ will accomplish His gracious purposes for you and for your neighbor.  Not as though to earn His thanks or favor, but to please Him by your faithfulness in your duties.  Not for a paycheck or a salary, as though to make a living for yourself, but as living for your Lord.

Does God give thanks to the rose bush for the flowers with which He has adorned it?  Or, does He give thanks and praise to the apple tree for the fruit that He bears and bestows upon its branches?  No, but the rose bush and the apple tree give thanks and praise to Him with their flowers and their fruit, by doing what He has created them to do, and by returning His gifts to the glory of His Name.

It is the same for you, whom the Lord God loves and honors far more than the trees and flowers.

Do not despise the work to which He has called you, nor despair of the purpose for which He has given you to do it.  Rather, find your contentment and satisfaction in the doing of your Lord’s will.

And do not doubt that He will glorify Himself in you — and that He will glorify you in Himself!

He does not owe you anything.  He is not obliged to give you thanks or pay you, simply for doing that which you are obliged to do.  Even at your best, if you were ever able to do and accomplish all that you are commanded, still, you are not worthy to be the slave of this Lord, the one true God.

Indeed, there is no righteousness, merit, or worthiness in you.

But you are the work of His own hands, solely on account of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.  You are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for such good works as He has prepared for you beforehand, that you should walk in them by grace through faith in Him who loves you.

So has He raised you from the dust of the earth, and snatched you away from the devil, from out of the fire, and planted you in the deep blue sea of Holy Baptism.  He has plowed your field, and filled your furrows with more than mustard seeds!  He shepherds you in safety and in peace, and, by His Word and Spirit He increases your faith, in order that you may live.

Not as a payment for your services rendered, but as a guest of honor at your Master’s Table, you eat and drink from His hand.  For He does and will take care of you.  Even now, He tenderly invites you to come and sit down at His feast.  He has prepared this Meal for you, by His Cross and Passion, by the shedding of His holy and precious Blood, and by His innocent suffering and death.  So has He clothed Himself in humility, and girded Himself to serve you.

For it is Christ the Lord who has been patient, persistent, and faithful in all things pertaining to righteousness and godliness.  Though He is the greatest in the Kingdom of God, He is among you as a Slave, who plows and shepherds and serves to the glory of His God and Father, and for the good of His people.  He preaches and baptizes unto repentance, unto faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  He catechizes you with His Word of Truth, which is the Lamp unto your feet and the Light upon your path, so that you are guarded from all danger and guided in His Way of real Life.  He leads you to His Table, where He gives you His Body to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink, so that you may abide with Him in Peace, in the House of your Lord, forever and ever.

For He Himself, your dear Lord Jesus Christ, has been planted in the depths of the sea, that is, by His own Baptism unto the death of His Cross; and He has been raised by God to life again, by the Glory of His Father — that you might become His brother, or His sister, and live with Him in His Kingdom in the purity of His innocence and blessedness.  So it is in love that He rebukes you with gentle compassion, in order to work His repentance in you, and to raise you up in righteousness through faith in His forgiveness, unto the Life everlasting of your body and your soul.

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