19 October 2014

Christ Is the Image & Inscription of God

There’s lots of worries in the air and in the news these days, and as many or more opinions as to what should be done about them: The Ebola virus is on everybody’s mind, and it has contributed to the ups and downs of a recently volatile Wall Street.  The threats and atrocities of ISIS against Christians and others in various parts of the world are likewise a clear and present danger.  Peace and safety seem increasingly precarious and volatile.  And all of this on top of more mundane but ongoing concerns of health care and its costs, and, yes, the burden of rising taxes.

There are those people who blame the government for these problems, or for making them worse, and plenty of others who expect the government to be the solution that makes it all better.  More laws and more taxes — or fewer laws and lower taxes — as I say, there are no lack of opinions.

So, what are your hopes and fears for tomorrow?  What is it that’s weighing heavy on your mind and worrying you this morning?  And what solution do you long for?  Where are you looking for help and rescue from all that threatens your life and your future?  In whom do you put your trust?

This isn’t a “political” sermon, leastwise not in the usual sense that one might think.  But I’ll tell you straight up what the Lord has commanded in His Word: Honor the governing authorities; submit to them, and pray for them; because they are God’s ministers for your good in this world.  But do not put your trust in them, and do not bow down before them, as though the presidents and princes of this mortal earth were gods.  For they, too, are men of flesh and blood.  They rise, and they shall fall, according to the Lord’s good pleasure.  They can do nothing at all apart from Him.

The one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is not compartmentalized.  He is not shelved or sidelined, regardless of what anybody says or thinks or does.  The earth is the Lord’s, and all the fullness thereof.  The whole of creation exists by His Will and at His Word, and He governs the heavens and the earth and all that is in them in fulfillment of His own purposes.  This is true.

He gives and establishes parents and other authorities, not because He is powerless or helpless, but because He chooses to exercise His almighty power in this way, working in and with and through His creation: As He also serves you and His children on earth through His holy angels.  It is in the nature of His tender loving kindness that He privileges His creatures to participate in His works.

So, too, according to His steadfast love, He orders creation and governs all authority in heaven and on earth for the benefit of His Church.  All of this for the sake of Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.

Nations rise and fall at His command.  Kings and queens, czars and politicians of every sort, all come and go according to His Will.  And always He is moved by His love for you, who bear the Name of Christ, whom the Father has anointed with the Spirit for the salvation of the world.

Though you did not know Him, nor could you have come to Him on your own, He has known you in His grace, mercy, and peace, and He has revealed and given Himself to you, and for you, in the flesh and blood of this one Lord, Jesus Christ, the blessed and beloved Son of God.

Why, then, do bad things happen to you, and to Christians all over the world, both near and far?  Why do things go wrong, sometimes very badly indeed?  Why is it sometimes hard to find a job, or to make enough money to keep up with the cost of living, or to provide for your family?

Why do you suffer personally?  Why does our congregation struggle to make ends meet?  And why is our country so volatile, apparently ready to ignite or erupt with a growing number of tensions?  We’re hardly surprised, anymore, to read or hear of violence in almost every imaginable place.

If God loves you, and He is all-powerful and good, why is your life so often so difficult?  If you are a child of God, then why do you go hungry or disappointed?  And why does it so often seem as though all of this stuff happens by chance, by accident, or by coincidence, as though there were no God at all, but only luck, or fate, or karma, or simply the survival of the fittest?

Beloved of the Lord, take this to heart, that His grace and goodness are as sure and certain as His almighty power.  He is not arbitrary, capricious, or fickle in His dealings, but He does all things in holy love, and for your good, so that all things do work together for your salvation in Christ.

It is not true that anything happens randomly.  Despite the chaos of sin, death, and the devil, the Lord your God, He is the true and only God, and nothing from the highest heights to the deepest depths has slipped away from Him or gotten out of His control.  He upholds all that is by His Word, through Whom all things are made, and nothing is or happens apart from Him.

It is difficult, I realize, to reconcile this almighty power of God with your hurt and suffering, your sadness and fear.  It surely does not feel like divine providence, mercy, or love when you are in pain or struggling to survive.

But remember that your heart, mind, and spirit, your body and soul are sinful, and that you do not perceive the things of God, His Mind or Spirit, by any of your own wisdom, reason, or strength.

Although you are not God, but a creature — and a fallen creature at that — you suppose that your perceptions, your preferences, and your pride are good and right and as they should be.  Not so.  Nor is it to your advantage or benefit to persist in such sins (for that is what these attitudes are).

Thus, by the Cross, the Lord disciplines you unto repentance, away from sin and death unto life with Him; from pride and self-righteousness to fear, love, and trust in Him above all other gods; from covetous greed and lust and selfishness unto the genuine faith and love of Christ Jesus.

By what you suffer, and finally by your death, He would break the idolatry of this body and life, of this perishing world and its false belief and unbelief.  He puts to death what is dying, that you should henceforth live in Him by His grace alone, through faith in His Word and promises.

For you are His, both by His creation and by His redemption of your body, soul, and spirit.  You, and your whole life, all that you are and have, and your place in the world, all of it derives from Him and belongs to Him by right.  Not that He needs your help or anything from you, but that you are His workmanship, created to live with Him in His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

You are made in His Image; which is to say, that you are created in Christ Jesus, and recreated in Him by your Holy Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection. His Body of Flesh and Blood is the Model and the Mold in which you have been crafted by the hand of God in His infinite Wisdom.

Not only that, but He has written His Name upon you, the Inscription of His Word in your flesh and in your soul: He has signed you with the Sign of His Holy Cross upon your forehead and your heart, your mind, body, and spirit.  Not with pencil or pen, but with the precious Blood of Christ.

Therefore, render yourself and all that you are unto Him.  Not that you must buy Him off.  This is far more than tithes or taxes to which the Lord Jesus directs you when He instructs you to render unto God the things that are God’s.  It is a matter of faith.

Entrust yourself entirely to the Lord your God.  That is to live by faith in Christ Jesus.  Listen to His Word.  Confess His Holy Name.  Pray, praise, and give thanks always, at all times and in all places.  And, so also, honor your father and mother and the other authorities whom He has placed over you in life.  Love and cherish them, serve and obey them.  Only do not sin against His Word.

By the same standard, in whatever office He has given you, whatever governance or stewardship of His creation, honor that authority with which He has entrusted you by serving faithfully, that is to say, according to His Word, to the glory of His Name, and for the benefit of your neighbor.

Work and serve especially for the sake of His Church.  For the support of His Church on earth is not an afterthought or a secondary matter; it is to be the priority of your first fruits.  Again, not as though He needs your help, but because He gives you the privilege of participating in this best and most beautiful of all His good works, whereby He gives life and salvation to His creatures.

Like Cyrus and Caesar, you have no authority except what God the Lord has given you and permits you to exercise.  He can just as surely remove you from whatever place or position you presently occupy; for He will surely accomplish His own purposes, with or without you.

No matter the coin, no matter how few or many you may have in your hand and pocket, you are not your own but God’s.  Do not fret or worry, then, as to what you shall get and keep for yourself, but render Him His due, what is His by right: Not ten percent, but everything you are and have.

Render Him yourself and your all.  Turn away from idols, whether of wealth or whatever, and serve the true and living God.  Look unto Christ, the incarnate God, the Lord’s Anointed.  He is the Image of God in whom you are made; and He is the Word of God, inscribed in the flesh and blood of His Body, conceived and born of Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, and risen from the dead.

All Authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him: for your sake, and for His Church.  The Authority of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

In Him, all that is sinful, and all that is dead and dying, has been put to death once and for all; and in His Resurrection from the dead, the faith and life of God have been established for all people.

This Lord Jesus Christ, true God and perfect Man, has rendered Himself entirely unto God by the Cross, in your own flesh and blood, in order to redeem you from sin, death, and hell, not with money, but with Himself; to reconcile you to God, and to raise you from the dead.  So does He now render Himself to you in love, to bring you to His own God and Father in faith and love.

See, here, the Coin of His realm, given for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Whose Image and Whose Inscription does it bear?  That of Christ, the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed for you.  In Him you are the Lord’s, and He is yours forever and ever.  Such are the “politics” of God.

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

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