22 June 2014

To Fear, Love, and Trust the Father in Christ

Here the Lord Jesus gives instructions to the Twelve Apostles, as He sends them out with authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.  They are sent in His Name and stead to preach as He preaches, and to do as He does, to give life.

These instructions pertain especially, then, to the ministers of the Word of Christ who are called, ordained, and sent to preach and administer His Gospel, even to the ends of the earth, to the close of the age.  They are cautioned and warned of the dangers and difficulties that will beset them on account of His Name, but also encouraged and comforted by the promise of His grace and mercy.

By extension, the same warnings, cautions, encouragements, and comforts are here given to you, as well, and to all who hear and receive the messengers of Christ in His Name.  For it is the case that all the disciples of Christ Jesus are called to follow Him, to learn from Him, to believe in Him, and by such faith in His Word, by the grace of His Gospel, to become like their Lord and Master.

For those who are sent to preach the Cross, to preach Christ and Him crucified, they are given to bear that Cross in their lives and ministry, in their very bodies.  They are persecuted and rejected, in many and various ways, because they are given to share in the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus Himself.  So do they also share His great victory, His vindication, and His Resurrection; but it is precisely in and through their suffering for His Name’s sake that God accomplishes His purposes.

In much the same way, again, those disciples of Christ Jesus who hear and receive the preaching of His Cross — who are baptized into His death, and who partake of His sacrificial body and blood — they have that same Cross of Christ laid upon their own vocations, upon their offices and stations in life, and upon their bodies and souls.  So does the Lord lay His Cross upon you.

There are as many different crosses as there are different people and places, seasons and situations, and I can’t even begin to identify them all.  I do know some of the crosses that many of you bear, but I surely don’t know all of them; for which reason I simply entrust you to our dear Father in heaven in my prayers and intercessions for you.

But there is such beautiful encouragement for each and every one of you in the preaching and promise of what the Lord, your God and Father, has accomplished by the Cross and Crucifixion of His dearly-beloved Son.  Do not lose heart, therefore, but consider what great good He may accomplish for you and for others by the Cross that He has laid upon you in His love and mercy.

In our day and age, in this country of ours, it is perhaps not yet likely that you will be confronted with the cross of bodily persecution and the threat of martyrdom.  Not yet.  But the assaults and attacks of the devil, of the world, and of your own sinful flesh are no less real and difficult.

I dare say, though it saddens me, that among the most painful and difficult crosses to bear are those that are laid upon marriage and family: between husbands and wives, between fathers and their children, between brothers and sisters, not only in youth but in adulthood.  Not simply the large challenges confronting the institution of marriage and the sanctify of human life, but the crosses of difficult relationships within your own household and family, and the equally painful cross of living without a spouse, without your parents anymore, or without any children of your own.

Jesus will have more specific things to say about the crosses that are laid upon families as He continues His preaching and catechesis in next Sunday’s Holy Gospel, but here it is already set before us in His Word to you this morning.

How terribly difficult it is when those you love most dearly in this world reject the faith and life of Christ in some fashion or another; whether by outright denial and blasphemy, or by apathy and atrophy, or by the conduct of their lives, by which they confess another lord and god altogether and show themselves to be the slaves of sin and death instead of serving righteousness and holiness.

And yet, how tempted you are to compromise your own faith and life on account of your loved ones, to make excuses for them, or to dismiss the seriousness of such rejection of the faith, because of the ties and attachments of flesh and blood.  It is too painful to consider and confront the consequences of apostasy, unbelief, and sin.  So you choose to ignore it, or you begin to condone it, and in this way you also fail to confess the Lord Jesus Christ before your closest kin.

Beloved, are you ashamed of the Gospel of Christ?  Or do you suppose that the Gospel is a license to sin without consequence, as though to make grace abound by the mess to be cleaned up?  May it never be so!  Repent of that damnable lie, which brings not life in Christ but death and hell.

Of course, I realize that there are also many other ways in which all our families on earth, and our earthly fathers, too, fall short of God’s righteousness in Christ and fail us.  Too often it happens, that there is coldness where there ought to be compassion and care.  Anger or despair overcomes the husband or father, the wife or mother, the child or sibling, who may then leave instead of love.

Or perhaps it is the case that personality, infirmity, or weakness cause your closest neighbors to become a cross that you are called to bear in the faith, hope, and love of Christ Jesus.

God grant you the strength to do so in the grace, mercy, and peace of His Holy Gospel.  For it is the truth, that, as often as you fail and fall short, He calls you to repentance and to faith in His free and full forgiveness of your sins.  He returns you to your Baptism, to raise you up by His Cross.

Not only do the crosses that are laid upon you work repentance and strengthen faith within you, but rest assured that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has accomplished His great salvation of the world by the Cross and Resurrection of His Son, is also at work to accomplish His good and gracious purposes in you and for others by the Cross and Resurrection in your life.

By those family crosses that you bear, the Lord teaches you to set your hope on Him alone, your true Father in heaven, and to find your permanent home and family in the Church of His dear Son, Jesus Christ, with those who are your true brothers and sisters in Him, in heaven and on earth.  For Christ is your heavenly Bridegroom, faithful and true, who shall never leave you nor forsake you.

Now, I would ask you to consider, in that light, the cross that your pastor — your spiritual father in Christ Jesus — bears in his responsibility for you, and for the household and family of God.

Consider how painful it is, for a father, when his children do not listen to him or heed his words.  And then consider, all the more so, that Christ our Lord has chosen to speak His Word to you and to His Church on earth through the mouth of His called and ordained servants, His sent ones.

That is why it is so serious, and of such concern to both parents and pastors, when children turn their backs on the Church, and thereby turn their ears and hearts and minds away from God’s Word and the preaching of it.

The reality is that anything — whether it be work, sleep, recreation, or laziness — anything that keeps you from the hearing of the Word of Christ is nothing less than a false god, a damnable idol, for which you would forfeit your soul and body to hell.  Of course, I am not talking about those who are homebound by illness or incapacity, to whom the Word of God is taken from this place.  But I am speaking of the countless gods that compete for your allegiance on any given Sunday.

This threatening Word of the Law is intended to put the fear of God into you.  For you are to fear His wrath and neither disregard nor disobey Him.  But you are also called, at the same time, not only to fear the Lord your God, but to love and trust in Him above and beyond everything else.

The crosses that are laid upon you in this life are intended to bring you always back to the Father, in and through Christ Jesus, in repentance and faith in His Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins.  And so it is that every cross points you, above all else, to the Cross and Passion of your dear Lord Jesus Christ, who demonstrated and fulfilled the Love of God for you by His sacrificial death.

This sacrifice of Christ — His innocent suffering and death, His holy and precious Blood, poured out for you and for the many — this is your great value before your God and Father in heaven.

And, as we have so recently heard from the Lord by the preaching of His Apostle, St. Peter, this promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord shall call to Himself from even the farthest reaches of the globe.

There is not anyone for whom the Lord Christ has not died and shed His lifeblood.   So you may be sure that His Father’s love for your children is even greater than your own; far, far greater, as hard as that may be for you to wrap your heart and head around.  And He is not only willing but more than able to do far more abundantly than you could ever ask or imagine to bring them back to Himself, and to keep them close to Himself; though it is by the way and means of the Cross.

But more directly to the point at hand, the Cross of Christ is the Father’s love for you.  There is no greater love!  And it is for you by His grace.

The crosses that you are given to bear and carry within your vocation and stations in life are not a pointless or meaningless exercise of futility, no matter how desperate your situation may seem.  Nor are those crosses an indictment of His love for you; they are yet a part of His fatherly love, by which He glorifies His Name in you, and by which He shall glorify you in His Son, Jesus Christ.

So, too, that you may be strengthened in this faith and life by His Spirit, and drawn ever closer to His fatherly embrace within the arms of Christ your Savior, He gathers you around His Table here, and He feeds you, His own dear child, with all the fruits and benefits of that saving Cross of Christ.

Here the greatest treasure of heaven is set before you, and given and poured out for you to eat and to drink; not for condemnation, but for the forgiveness of all your sins, unto life and salvation.

Have no ungodly fear or trepidation, but in the fear of the Lord, in the wisdom of repentant faith, rest here and rejoice in His forgiving love, and gladly share in this great Feast of His own Son.

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

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