25 March 2015

Let It Be According to His Word

In the midst of the darkness and the barren wilderness of Lent, this Word of the Gospel comes — seemingly out of nowhere — to address itself to you, to shine the Light of Christ upon you and to give you Life in Him.  It is the very Word that proceeds from the mouth of God, which here gives to you the Bread of Life from Heaven: the very flesh and blood of the only-begotten Son.

And as a living icon of the Church, here stands the Blessed Virgin Mary with you, who embodies and exemplifies the holiness of faith in the hearing and receiving of this Word of God, which she ponders in her heart and keeps within her womb.

Even more so and more intimately than St. John the Baptist, St. Mary is the crux between the Old and New Testaments.  She is the recipient of all the many and various prophecies of old, which are now fulfilled and spoken to us by her Son.  For she has become the Mother of the Son of God, of Him who is begotten of His Father before all worlds — God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God — who is now also the true Man, because, for us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary.  As He is of one divine nature with God the Father from all eternity, so is He now of the same human nature as you and me, because He was conceived and born of this Woman, this daughter of Adam and Eve.

She has done nothing to bring it on, nothing to earn it or deserve it.  We are told nothing about her prior to this point, except that she was “a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David,” and that she was living in the city of Nazareth.  But the Lord is with her — as He is also with you, here in His Church, in His Holy Gospel.  He favors her with His grace; He blesses her with His Word and Spirit — uniquely so, of course; and yet, He also favors you and blesses you within your own vocations and stations in life.  Most glorious of all, the Lord speaks His Word to her, and God the Father gives to her His own dear Son.  And so does He also speak His Word to you, and through that Word He gives to you the same Son who was conceived and born of Mary.

Oh, the power and the glory of that Word of God!  That holy and almighty Word, which was in the beginning with God.  That Word which was and is God the Son.  That Word by which all things are made, apart from which there is nothing.  That Word which here in this Holy Gospel becomes flesh and comes to tabernacle with us, the bodily fullness of deity!  That Word of Life, which is Spirit and Truth.  That Word which, when He says, “Let there be,” then it is so, and it is very good!

All glory, honor, thanks, and praise be to that holy and precious Word of God which, even as it was sounding in the ears of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the same time was being conceived in her womb, so that, taking her flesh and blood to become His own Body, He thus became true Man.

Along with that, the same Word of God also brought forth that most amazing confession of faith from St. Mary.  It opened her lips to declare His praise: “Let it be for me according to Your Word!”

How often shall we praise that beautiful confession, and let those words ring in our ears!?  It could never be too often.  For Dr. Luther, this confession of the faith is actually even more wondrous than the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth.  That God should create such great faith in the heart and on the lips of this woman — in spite of her sinfulness; in the face of His seemingly impossible promises; in the sorrow and shame of all that she will have to suffer from the world around her; and finally in the shadow of the Cross of her dear Son — that she would believe His Word is, indeed, a miracle of His grace.

Against all the challenges and obstacles of this fallen world, there stands fast the Word of God.  And by that Word — full of the Holy Spirit and the Power of the Highest — there is also then the faith to bow before that same Word in humility, and to cling to that Word for dear life.

These things are true not only of St. Mary, but also of you, and of all the children of God in Christ Jesus.  For He has spoken His Word — and His seemingly impossible promises — to you, as well.

He has spoken to you, poor miserable sinner though you are, and He has declared that He is with you.  He has favored you with His gracious Word of forgiveness, and He has blessed you with His Holy Spirit unto repentance and faith.

In the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism, the Lord has called you by name to Himself.  What is more, He has named you with His own Holy Name!  He has said to you, that you are forgiven, and that your Baptism has now saved you.  For He has thereby anointed you with His Holy Spirit — the same Holy Spirit that over-shadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary and conceived the Son of God within her womb.  And He has united you with that same Son of God in His Cross and Resurrection.  So it is that you, also, are a child of the Father in heaven.

The same Word of God has spoken to you — again and again throughout your life — the Holy Absolution of all your sins.  And that Word still does and accomplishes whatever it says.  So, too, when that same Word of God says to you, “Take, eat; this is My Body, which is given for you,” and “Drink from this Cup, which is the New Testament in My Blood, which is poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of your sins.”  And it is so!

This is the Word of God that is spoken to you by your pastor.  It is no less sure and certain than the Word that was spoken by the Angel Gabriel to St. Mary.  It is no less full of the Holy Spirit and the Power of the Highest.  And it is no less able to call forth in your heart and from your lips the confession of faith.  For you are a servant of the Lord.  Let it be for you according to His Word!

When it seems impossible to believe that you are His child, that He loves you, that He has forgiven you, and that He will never leave you nor forsake you, “Let it be according to His Word!”

When it feels like the whole world is against you — and, frankly, all the more so when the whole world really is against you: Nevertheless, Let it be for you according to His Word!

When you are painfully aware of just how small and frail and helpless you are: Still, Let it be for you according to His Word!

When the Cross lies heavy upon you; when you can see and feel nothing else but pain and heartache and sadness; when you are reduced to lowliness and nothingness: Even then, especially then, Let it be for you according to His Word!”

Take it to heart, that, for all the ups and downs in your Christian faith and life, the Word of God will never let you down or put you to shame.  The Lord has not lied to you.  Nor does He deceive you.  His promises are not impossible.  The Father has spoken to you by His Son!

Fear not, therefore.  The Lord is with you!  And you have found favor with God.

Blessed are you that believe; for there shall be a fulfillment of those things which are told you from the Lord.

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

22 March 2015

To Share in the Glory of the Son of Man

Some of you are probably more competitive than others when it comes to games or sports or other contests of skill.  But you would all prefer winning as opposed to losing.  There is a spirit of competition that pervades this fallen and perishing world with its limited resources.  Consider how the successful and the prosperous are described as “winners,” while those who struggle to hit their stride or make ends meet are labeled as “losers.”  As though life itself were a contest.

Even when it comes to matters of opinion, differences in taste, and the luck of the draw, the roll of the dice, there is this urge to “win,” to demonstrate “superiority,” to dominate your peers.  If not by your own abilities and achievements, then by your associations and attachments, riding the coattails of your chosen favorites.  Whether in the realm of politics, sports, or entertainment, or in the case of celebrities whose only claim to fame is fame itself, there are the heros and their rivals.

These people are the apparent “rulers” and the “great men and women” of the “gentiles” in our day and age.  So, whose side are you on?  Who’s your team?  Your hero?  Your role model?  Or do you look for your personal fame and glory in the accomplishments and accolades of your children?

You do get caught up in the culture of competition, because it also pervades your own heart and soul; it claws at your mortal flesh with its demands for attention, self-preservation, and promotion.  With strategies both crass and subtle, deliberate and only semi-conscious, you jockey for position, you vaunt yourself and lord it over others where you can, and you exercise whatever power and prerogative you have to serve yourself first of all.  Welcome to the law of the jungle.

You find the same thing in the case of James and John, when they request that Jesus promote them above all others.  And it’s there again in the anger of the other disciples.  But credit where it’s due, they have fixed their eyes and set their sights on Jesus, which is both good and right to do.  They are seeking glory, it is true, but they have at least recognized that with Jesus is the place to find it.

But what will this mean for them?  And what will it look like?  What will being with Jesus require?

They do not yet understand or even know what they are asking.  But they will.  They will learn, because Jesus will teach them.  He deals gently with the ignorant and misguided, above all by taking their frailties and weaknesses, their sins and griefs and sorrows upon Himself and bearing them in His own body, soul, and spirit to the Cross.

Thus do James and John, the other disciples, and you learn from Him the Way of the Lord.

His Way is not the worldly way of competition, but of divine charity and compassion.  It is the greatness and glory of service and self-sacrifice, exemplified in His own Body and Life, in His humble obedience to the Father, in His innocent suffering and death.  That is how He is revealed to you, and that is how you know Him rightly.

He is the One who acts to reveal and attach Himself to you.  Not to ride your coattails, but to give you His own Life.  He becomes your God, and you belong to His people by His grace.  For He forgives your iniquities, and He remembers your sins no more, but He remembers you in mercy.

The Lord establishes this New Covenant in His own Body on the Cross; and now He writes it, signs and seals it with His own flesh and blood — upon your heart, in your mind, body, and soul — by the preaching and catechesis of His Word, in Holy Baptism, and in the Holy Communion.

You learn to know Him — His heart and mind, His true greatness and His real glory — by His free and full forgiveness of your sins.  By this Holy Gospel, you know Him deeply and profoundly, truly and completely.  You know the Lord Jesus, His Father, and His Spirit, the one true God, through His Word of Holy Absolution and in His Holy Sacraments, in His Chalice and His Font.

This Gospel of love and forgiveness, this Testament of life and salvation, is freely given to you by God, by His grace alone, and it is freely received by faith alone, apart from any works of the Law.

But the very faith which lives so freely by this gracious Gospel, also proceeds on the Way of the Lord according to the Law of Christ, which is not the law of the jungle but the Law of love.  Which means that you gladly forgive and do good and give life to your neighbor in the Name of Christ.  That, too, is the significance of His Baptism, with which you are baptized, and of His Cup, from which you are given to drink.

For these gifts of God that you receive have implications for the way that you live.

The New Covenant of Christ, having been established for you and for all in His own Body and Blood on the Cross, is now being written for your neighbor with your flesh and blood, with the stylus of the Cross in your life, in the particular place where you live and work and love and serve.  This, indeed, is the pattern of life and glory in the Kingdom of God.

Your place in His Kingdom is not one that you choose for yourself, but it is given and received by God’s calling and appointment.  You are positioned and equipped by the Lord your God, who loves you and your neighbor, to the glory of His Holy Name.  The same was true of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, on His Way to the Cross, in His calling and appointment to His office and work as your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.

As you are called to live under Him in His Kingdom, do not live as a citizen of this sinful world with its petty jealousies.  Do not compete with your neighbor, nor seek to get the better of him; but, for the sake of love, serve your neighbor as Christ Jesus loves you and serves you in peace.

Sometimes what you are called to do — the Cross that you are called to bear — is simply to endure patiently, to wait upon the Lord, and in the meantime to deal patiently with your neighbor.

Whatever your circumstances, let there be no envy or resentment among you, but only love.  Let there be no contesting for greatness or glory, but glorify your Lord Jesus Christ and His Cross by outdoing one another in humility, grace, and compassion.

It’s not kill or be killed, nor live and let live, but to lay down your life in love for your neighbor, for your friends and for your foes.  It’s not a competition after all, and there is no place for keeping score or tracking your progress against each other.  For one and all are called to know the true and only God in Jesus Christ the Crucified, from the greatest to the least of all His beloved brethren.

Despite all of the many differences (of which you are so aware) between you and your neighbors, and among your neighbors, the Lord shows no partiality.  Rich and poor, great and small, all are to Him alike, and whatever any of them has comes from Him.  But what does He regard and prize?  Faith in His Gospel, and faithfulness to His Word, and love and mercy in His Name.

Look, then, to your Captain, your merciful and great High Priest, the Author and Perfecter of faith:

In the days of His flesh, He offered up prayers and supplications with loud crying to the One who was able to save Him out of death — to the One who could take the Cup from Him, if it were His Will, but who would yet be able to raise Him up from death when He had fully drained that Cup.

He prayed to His Father, and He was heard because of His piety and reverence.  So it is that your prayers, too, are heard and answered for His sake, because of His piety and reverence.  For God the Father, who handed over His Son Jesus to be crucified for the sins of the world, has also raised Him from the dead for the reconciliation of the world, and for the justification of the unrighteous.

Although He was already a beloved Son, He learned obedience — experientially — from the things He suffered in your place, in order to become your compassionate and faithful High Priest.

His greatness and His glory are His faith and faithfulness, His mercy and Self-sacrificing love.  So has He given Himself as a Ransom for you and for the many, and so does He now serve you with forgiveness.  Having been made perfect by His Cross and in His Resurrection, He has become the fountain and source of eternal salvation to you and to all who believe and are baptized into Him.

As He gave Himself for you, His Body and Life upon the Cross, so now, in His Resurrection, He gives Himself to you; He serves you, and He brings you to His God and Father in the Spirit, by the way and means of His Baptism and His Cup.  These are the fruits of His Cross, by which you live.

As the Sacraments are shaped and filled by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, so are you also filled with Him and formed in His Image and Likeness by sharing in His Baptism and drinking from His Cup.  These means of grace shape your life in faith and love like His, even as they forgive your sins and give you the Life of Christ in place of death.

So do you follow in the footsteps of Jesus — up to Jerusalem, the Holy City, and even to your God and Father in heaven — by the Cross of Christ, by the New Covenant in His flesh and blood.  For you enter into Him by faith in His Gospel, as He gives Himself to you in His Holy Supper, so that you now enter into the presence of God through the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.

The bitter cup of wrath and woe, He has made sweet by His bloody Cross and Passion.  The poison in the cup, He has swallowed, that it might become for you the Cup of Blessing and Salvation.

The sacred flesh that bore your sins upon the Cross, and the precious blood of Christ that atoned for all of your unrighteousness, are given and poured out for you at the Lord’s Table in His House.  He surrounds you on the right and on the left, and He gives to you the place of honor, so that He may serve you and give Himself to you in love.  So are you seated here with Him in the glory of His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness, both now and forevermore.

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

18 March 2015

The River of Life

What you confess in the Creeds and pray in the Our Father, the Holy Triune God does for you and gives to you in Holy Baptism.  For you could not find Him, nor could you make your way to Him, but He has come to you in this way, by this way and means of grace, by the water and the Word.

What He has spoken and promised by the Prophets and Apostles, and what He has accomplished for you and for all people in Christ Jesus, He gives to you and accomplishes in you through the waters of Holy Baptism; so that you may live in Him and with Him, both now and forevermore.

Water, in and of itself in this fallen world, is ambiguous.  It is necessary and fundamental to life on earth, but either too much or too little of it can be deadly.  It quenches your thirst, but it can also drown you.  It washes you clean, but it can also wash your home away.  It is refreshing in a gentle rain, but dangerous in the torrential downpour of a raging thunderstorm.

But now, with respect to the waters of Holy Baptism — included in God’s command and combined with His Word — these waters flow from His Sanctuary to give life to His New Creation in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

They flow from the side of Christ, from His innermost Being, from His Body crucified and risen — from His Body lifted up on the living and life-giving Tree of His Cross — from the Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise, which is the Throne of God and of the Lamb.

This water that pours out from the side of Christ the Crucified flows in and with and of the Holy Spirit; even as the same Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is sent from the Father in heaven to give life to the world, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  So does this water of Life now flow with the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, as He is spoken and the Spirit is breathed by God the Father in the preaching and administration of the Gospel.

This River of the Spirit and of Life in Christ — though it begins in humility with His death upon the Cross — it does not diminish as it flows into the world, but it grows and increases, even to the ends of the earth.  It gives life in the desert.  It freshens the waters of the oceans and great seas.

It gives life to the nations, and makes disciples of all nations, of both Jews and Gentiles alike.  For the fishers of men, whom Jesus sends in His Name and stead, catch a great multitude of fish of every kind in these waters with the nets of the Holy Gospel.

It is true, the same waters of Holy Baptism drown and destroy the unbelieving world, and Pharaoh with his army, his chariots and horsemen, and so also the old Adam in you.

But these waters are not ambiguous.  They are not fickle and arbitrary.  God drowns and destroys sin and death and all the enemies of man with these waters, in order to bring about the New Creation in the Body of Christ Jesus, and to give real life to His disciples, His Christians.

Therefore, these waters of Holy Baptism wash you and cleanse you of all sin.  They quench your deepest thirst with the Spirit of Christ.  They bring true and lasting refreshment to body and soul.

And by these waters, the living and life-giving Spirit of Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit — the Author and Giver of Life, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified as the one true God — He flows in you and through you and from you to others.

As you are born again in the washing of the water with the Word — and as you are washed and sanctified by those waters, so that you have also entered the Holy City of God, that is, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, the Body of Christ, by the way and means of these waters — and as you eat from the Tree of Life, because you are baptized in these waters, which flow freely from the Tree of the Cross — so have you been planted as a tree alongside these living waters.

In the words of the Psalmist, you are a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; so that whatever you do prospers in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  You are a tree after the same kind as the Cross of Christ, suffering whatever you must bear for the sake of love with faith and trust in your dear God and Father.  You thus bear leaves for the healing of your neighbor, and good fruits to nourish those around you.

Each of you does so according to your own proper vocation in life, that is to say, first of all, as a Christian, baptized into the Cross of Christ, living within your own particular place in the world.

You are so fruitful and productive, like the Tree of the Cross, because you are constantly being watered and fed from the Body of Christ, within the Body of Christ, in the Ministry of the Gospel.

You are healed and nurtured and sustained by the waters of your Baptism: not repeated, but always effective, because those waters flow from the Cross and are always sufficient, always increasing, even to the close of the age, constantly cleansing you with the free and full forgiveness of sins.

And you are fed by the Fruits of the Tree of Life, that is, the Body and the Blood of Christ Jesus, which you are given to eat and drink as one who has been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism.

There is no ambiguity in that!  But in the clearest possible way, those sacred waters bring to you and give to you the Life and Love of the Lord Jesus, His Father, and His Spirit, now and forever.

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

11 March 2015

Pray Without Ceasing

The Lord has commanded you to pray, and has taught you to pray at all times, without ceasing.  Day by day, and night by night, you are to call upon His Name.  Indeed, your whole life is to be a constant prayer of faith, even as you offer up yourself, your body and soul and all that you are and have, as a living sacrifice to the praise and glory of the Lord your God.  But so also, take the time to pray: as you get up to begin your day, and as you lay yourself down to sleep at night; as you sit down to eat the food the Lord has provided, and as you return thanks to Him for what you have received; and as you are gathered together with your family and His to hear and learn His Word.

Evening and morning, in all your going out and coming in, pray to the Lord and call upon His Holy Name, because He alone is your Life and your Salvation.  He is your only hope, and you need Him at all times and in all places, not only in the day of trouble, but in every situation, without ceasing.

It is for you as it was for that poor widow in the Lord’s Parable.  Her husband has died, and she is evidently without father, brothers, or sons to represent her interests and defend her.  It is likely that others are attempting to seize the estate that would sustain her life and provide for her needs.  So she seeks help from the only place it can be found, that is, from the local judge, who ought to protect her and give her justice.  He’s not a good or pleasant man, but she has nowhere else to turn.  Therefore, she persists and perseveres in coming and asking for his help; not because it’s easy or enjoyable, but because she has no choice.  Her life depends upon it.  And that is how it is for you.

Your need for the Lord is no less urgent, but all the more so does your life in both body and soul, now and forever, depend entirely upon Him.  If He does not justify and save you, if He does not protect you and provide for you, then you shall be lost, both here in time and hereafter in eternity.

It’s not as though you actually deserve any of those things you need from God, for which you pray.  You don’t.  Nothing else but punishment is all that you have earned.  So what?  That only increases your desperate need for rescue and deliverance.  You have no choice but to rely upon God’s grace and mercy, His forgiveness and utter charity.  You are a beggar before Him, that is true.  Own it.

It is a fearful thing, though, isn’t it?  You are threatened by the Law, and by God’s wrath against your sin.  He is a righteous Judge, and justice would demand that your request be denied, or that you be delivered to the debtors’ prison, or put to death and damned.  Satan also accuses you and argues against you with the condemnation of the Law, and with his lying and murdering all day long and every night.

So you may be scared to seek the Lord or call on Him for help.  It may seem hopeless at best, and dangerous in any case, more likely to make things worse than to gain any benefit or advantage.  But ask Him anyway.  Keep on praying, and don’t give up.  Because you won’t survive without the Lord your God.  You need Him.  There’s no one else in heaven or earth who can save you.

The unrighteous judge in the Parable, who neither fears God nor cares for man, finally gives the poor widow the justice that she needs.  Not because he wants to help her, but only because he is wearied and worn down by her constant asking.  Her nagging, I suppose he would say.  She beats him up with her demands for justice, until he relents of his resistance and rescues her from evil.

Now, by the greatest contrast, the Lord is not reluctant or unwilling to hear and answer the prayers of His people, but He will certainly help and save His elect, because He loves them and desires to give them Life with Himself.  Even before they have known Him or called on Him, He has known them and chosen them in love, and called them by His Word, and reconciled them to Himself in Christ Jesus, in order to give them justice, not of the Law but of the Gospel, and to glorify them.

He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for you and for us all, will He not also, with Him, freely give you all good things?  Surely, yes, He will!  All the more reason to fear, love, and trust in Him, to call upon His Name in hope, and to pray to Him for all that you need.

But why, oh, why, does He delay in responding?  Or so it surely seems, although He has said that He will not delay.  As though He were ignoring and avoiding you, and not even listening to you.  As though He did not want to help you.  As though He were slow about keeping His promises.

Why does He sometimes seem to be your opponent, your accuser, and your enemy, instead of the defender and protector that you need Him to be?  To be sure, His holy and righteous Law, and His righteous wrath and anger against your sin, that is your greatest and most serious problem.  And you are to fear the Lord your God.  But, in light of the Gospel, why does He still resist your plea?

Or, to be more precise and to the point, why is it that He answers your prayer with the Cross?

This, too, belongs to His care for you.  It is fundamental to His catechesis and teaching, unto faith and life in Him.  In love for you, because He has made you His own dear child, and by His grace He has become your true Father in heaven, He disciplines and trains you in the way of Wisdom.  And, as we have heard from St. Paul this past Sunday, the genuine power and wisdom of God is found in the foolishness and weakness of the Cross.  It is by and with the Cross that He serves you.

The Lord is not slow about keeping His promises, but He is patient and persistent in calling you to repentance and faith.  As He would have you pray at all times, so does care for you at all times and in all places, calling you daily back to the significance of your Baptism — or to be baptized, if you are not — to die and rise with Christ the Crucified, and to find your life in Him.  For not only do you sin every day in your thoughts, words, and deeds, but you often don’t even realize — nor would you be able to realize on your own — that your thinking is so wrongheaded and false.

To give you what you need, to answer your prayer, and to help you, He lays the Cross upon you, that you would learn to live by faith alone in His Word and promises.  Your Father calls you, then, not only to better behavior, but to a strong and steadfast faith, to believe in Him and pray to Him, in, with, and under the Cross; that you would be conformed to the Image of Christ, the Son of God.

So, it is in love for you that He comes to meet you on the way, and challenges you, as it were, and wrestles with you through the long dark night, and lays the Cross upon your body and your soul.

Your confrontation with God in prayer is not only like that of the poor widow, but also like that of Jacob when he comes face to face with God on his way back home to face the brother and the father he had deceived.  His story is instructive, because Jacob is like you, on the one hand, but also a type of Christ on the other hand.  In his wrestling match with the Lord, in the way it all went down, you find your reconciliation with God and the working out of your relationship with Him.

Notwithstanding his treachery and deception, Jacob does have the birthright and blessing of his father.  The promised Seed of Abraham and Isaac will be the Seed of Jacob, also.  What is more, the Lord has promised to be with him and to bless him, and to bring him safely home again to the Land that He has sworn to give to this family.  Jacob clings to this promise, and, in doing so, he clings to the Lord and refuses to let go of Him.  He perseveres in the faith and hope of the promise, and he prevails upon the Lord, calling on His Name and requiring the blessing of His Name.

The Lord also perseveres and prevails upon Jacob, asking his name, and then changing his name, and putting his hip out of joint, out of its socket.  In this case, Jacob does not lie or deceive, as he had done with his father when he claimed to be his brother.  He confesses that he is “Jacob,” the deceiver.  But still he won’t let go, because he hangs on to the promise.  Therefore the Lord gives him the new name of “Israel,” because he strives with God.  It is both a struggle and faithfulness, and it does involve the bearing of the Cross, but so also the Name and the blessing of the Lord.

The Lord likewise fights with you and strives with you, as He did with Jacob, in order to break the old Adam in you, to put him to death and bury him, day by day, and night by night, as often as he keeps rearing his treacherous head within your heart and mind and in your flesh.  But not only that.  The Lord also strives with you, that you would learn to strive with Him; He prevails upon you, that you would learn to prevail upon Him, to press Him according to His Word and promises to you.

He would have you learn to pray to Him, not in fear or desperation, but in the hope of His mercy. Not as though you were stronger than God, but in the confidence of His steadfast love for you.

So, too, does the Lord Jesus Christ take your place in this wrestling match with God, in order to strive and wrestle for you, on your behalf.  As the true and perfect Man, the Seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He lives by faith in His Father, and He prays.  He practices what He preaches.  He sets the example of the life to which He calls you, and He establishes that life for you in His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead.

He takes all your sin and death upon Himself; He suffers the assaults and accusations of the devil against you; and He lays down His life for you, persevering in faith and love unto the Cross.  Not relying on Himself, nor as though any of this were easy for Him, but clinging to the Word of God, His Father, and to the promise and blessing of His own Baptism in the Jordan River: that He is the beloved and well-pleasing Son, and that His Father will raise Him up, even from death, unto life.

He sends you, His Bride the Church, and the children of God, and all that is His across the stream to safety, while He alone contends with God on your behalf through the long dark hours of the night, from Maundy Thursday through Good Friday.  Consider, for example, how He wrestles with His God and Father in the Garden of Gethsemane on that night when He is handed over to death.

He strives and wrestles, not to break away from God, but to fulfill His Father’s good and gracious Will: to take up the Cup of wrath and drink it to the dregs for your salvation; to atone for your sin with His own blood; to conquer death in His own flesh; and to reconcile you with God the Father.

His bones are put out of joint, His hip out of its socket in His Crucifixion, as the sacrificial Lamb who is put to death for your transgressions.  And so it is, that in His bodily Resurrection from the dead is your justification, your righteousness, and God’s resounding “Yes” and “Amen” to all of your needs, the answer to all of your prayers and intercessions.

As the same Lord Jesus Christ ever lives to intercede for you before His Father in heaven — who, for the sake of His beloved Son, and in His Body crucified and risen, freely gives you all good things — so does the Holy Spirit also help you in your weakness and pray for you.

The Spirit intercedes for you with groans of repentance and faith, too deep for words, as deep calls unto deep in the Body of Christ Jesus.  But so does He also teach you how to pray by and with the Word of Christ, and to call upon God as your own dear “Abba, Father!”  He teaches you to pray, and He gives you the words with which to pray, not as a slave, but as a beloved and well-pleasing son of God the Father in Christ Jesus.  For you are baptized in His Name; you are His very own.

Therefore, do not lose heart or give up hope, but pray both day and night in the confidence of faith.  At all times and in all places, pray, praise, and give thanks to the Father through Jesus Christ your Lord, by His Word and Spirit.  For the Testimony of the Lord is pure, making wise the simple.  And, as you are instructed by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, the words of your mouth and the meditations of your heart are acceptable and pleasing to your Father in heaven.

In the Spirit, by faith in the Gospel, by virtue of your Holy Baptism, you are no longer a poor and helpless widow, but a beloved Bride of Christ and a very dear child of God.

The Lord who comes to be your Judge has redeemed you with His own holy and precious Blood.  So does He also hear your prayer and help you.  He gives to you the justice of His own perfect Righteousness.  He gives to you and shares with you the inheritance of His Father’s Kingdom.  He blesses you with His own Name, the Name above all names with which He has named you.

He is the One who has commanded you and taught you to pray, and He has promised that your prayer will be heard and answered.  In Him, the Word-made-Flesh, there is no petition, no cry for mercy, and no intercession whose voice is not heard.  For He has gone to the Father by His Cross and Resurrection, and in His Ascension He brings you and your prayer to the Father in His own Body, with His own flesh and blood, so that you are pleasantly received as sweet-smelling incense.  In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

08 March 2015

Your House and Home with God in Christ

The Lord Jesus knows what is in every man.  He knows what is in you.  He knows the truth behind the lies you tell yourself, and He sees through the deceptions that you perpetrate on others.  He knows your sins of thought, word, and deed, your secret shame, your guilty conscience, and your deepest regrets.  He knows your heart and mind, your hopes and dreams, your doubts and fears.

He knows those things about you and within you that make you so afraid, because you are sure that, if anyone knew what you’re really like, what you’ve done, or what your wicked imagination dreams of doing, then there would be no hope for you, and no one could ever like you or love you.

And yet, even knowing all of that and more — knowing you, your sin and death, better than you know yourself — this same Lord Jesus does in fact love you with a passion and a zeal that is larger than life and stronger than death.  And for the sake of such Love, in order that you may have Life in Him, He comes down from heaven and goes up to Jerusalem to lay down His Life for you.

He gives Himself, and offers up Himself, as the Passover Lamb who is sacrificed for you, to set you free from the bondage of your sin and death, within and without.  He willingly sheds His holy and precious blood for you, to cover and protect you from the angel of death.  He pours out His Cup for you, and He feeds you with His own flesh, that you may feast on Him and not die but live.

By His Cross, and in His Resurrection from the dead, He prepares a place for you in His Father’s House, a seat at His Father’s Table, where you are safe and sound and able to rest in His Peace.

There is a deep and direct connection between His Love for you and His Love for His own God and Father.  In Him you see the perfect continuity between faith and love toward God and love for the neighbor; for in His fear, love, and trust in God above all things, He loves you with His own Body and Life in all the ways the Law commands.  He does you no harm but only good, even at the cost of Himself, in order to honor His Father, and to fulfill the good and gracious will of God.

As you have heard, the zeal of the Lord Jesus for His Father’s House — His zeal for His Father’s Name and Glory — consumes Him entirely.  It eats Him up: to the point of death upon the Cross.  It’s not that He loses His temper; nor is He defensive of Himself.  His righteous anger compels Him to act for the keeping and fulfillment of His Father’s Word, for the salvation of His people.

It’s not the Father He’s protecting, but the purpose of the Father’s House as the way and means by which He dwells with you in Peace, so that you are able to live and abide with Him, and call upon His Name, and rest yourself in the refuge of His grace.  The Father doesn’t need a house to live in; He’s not homeless; nor could the whole of creation contain Him, who holds it all in His own hand.

But you need the House of the Lord your God, in order to draw near to Him and to be with Him.  So it is in self-sacrificing love for you that Christ is consumed and eaten up by His zeal for God.

Your peace and life with God is not something you can get for yourself or accomplish for yourself.  It cannot be purchased with money, nor bartered for with works, nor obtained by your sacrifices.  It is accomplished by God, established for you, and given to you by His grace in Christ Jesus, in much the same way that He provided the Tabernacle (and then the Temple), the Priesthood, and the Sacrifices in the Old Testament as means of grace and forgiveness in anticipation of Christ.

It is Christ, the Son of God who has become Flesh and now tabernacles among us, who brings all of this to completion and perfection.  And He does it, not only by His Incarnation, but by the way and means of His Cross.  He suffers His holy and blameless Body to be destroyed on your behalf, as the once-for-all Sacrifice of Atonement, as the Whole Burnt Offering, and as the sweet smelling Incense, by which you draw near to the Father and are received by Him and pleasing to Him.

So it is that Christ the Crucified — in His rising from the dead, and in His Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father, into the Holy of Holies eternal in the heavens — He is your Reconciliation with God; He is your Redemption, your Ransom, your Rescue from the bondage of sin and death; and, as St. Paul has said, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus is your Righteousness and Holiness.

He is the Lamb without blemish, spot, or flaw, who has been sacrificed for you and for all people.

And He is the merciful and great High Priest, who ministers before God on your behalf; who has offered Himself in your stead, in order to make a place for you; who ever lives to intercede for you.

He is the sacrificial Feast, who gives His Body and pours out His Blood for you to eat and drink.

And His Body is the Temple, whereby God dwells with you — not only with His Life-giving Word and Spirit, but with His own Flesh and Blood — and you abide with Him.  And not only do you live with Him, but in Him; and He also abides in you, that is, in your body as well as your soul.

This is what He is aiming at and fighting for when He comes down from heaven, when He cleanses the Temple, and when He goes to the Cross: He would take up residence in you, that you might live and abide in Him.  It is a marriage of heart and mind, of body, soul, and spirit, whereby He gives Himself entirely to you, so that you may find yourself entirely in Him.  Not that He would rob you of freedom, life, and happiness, but that you should have all of these things, truly and forever, in and with Him, the true and only God.

So He enters in — by and with His Cross — by the foolish preaching of His Cross, which is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name — and He cleanses you from the inside-out.  He drives out all that clutters up your life and crowds Him out.  Indeed, by the scourge of the Cross He topples and scatters and removes all of your self-righteous attempts to build your own temple and to scale the heights of heaven by your own wisdom, reason, and strength.

To be sure, just as the Cross appears utterly foolish and useless when the Lord Jesus takes it upon Himself, it seems to be flat-out offensive and dreadfully rude when He lays it upon you.  But as He has the authority to lay down His own body and life (in holy faith and holy love), so does He also raise it up again.  And with that same authority of His Cross and Resurrection, not only does He crucify you and put you to death, but He also raises you, as well, in and with Himself; and having cleaned house in you, He brings you home to God the Father in Himself, in His own Body.

As He is consumed by His zeal for the Father and for you — for He is “a jealous God,” and He is zealous for you because you are His own — so does He consume you by His Cross, and by His fierce preaching of repentance.  But that is only one side of the story.  He also gives His Body for you, and pours out His Blood for you, the Fruits of His Cross — the Meat and Drink of His Self-sacrifice — so that you may consume Him, and eat Him up, as your Passover Lamb.  In this Meal you find that He is not out to get you, but to give Himself to you, in order to give you His Life.

Thus, He is now “what is in you.”  Your body is a temple of God, not metaphorically, but actually.  Cleansed and sanctified by the Word and Spirit of Christ, by the water and the blood, and by His forgiveness of your sins, your body and your soul are a house of prayer and a place of peace.

For His Body is the Temple of God among men, given for you here, that you may receive what you are and become what you receive: The Body of Christ.  He lives in you, and you in Him.  This is a great Mystery indeed, but His Body is your Temple, wherein you abide with God the Father, and He abides with you.  For the Body of Christ is your Father’s House, on earth as it is in heaven.

This House of God, therefore, and this Altar of the Lord, where the Body of Jesus is given to you with His Word, is where you live.  This is your home.  Here you are safe and sound, hidden with Christ in God.  Here you have Peace and Sabbath Rest, because you are forgiven all your sins and reconciled with God by the Blood of Christ.  Here is your Food and Drink, unto life everlasting.

Let us therefore keep the Feast, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, and in three days He has raised Himself up for you and your salvation.

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

07 March 2015

A Son of the Father in Christ

Remember that you are dust.  But of course, it would be hard to forget that or deny it today.

What we receive from our fathers and hand over to our children — along with looks and intellect, skills and temperament, attitudes, ideas, and possibly possessions — is a legacy of sin and death, which puts you back into the ground from which your first father Adam was taken.  Along the way, it rears its heads in all sorts of ways, both general and particular: in your quirks and foibles, in your vices and bad habits, and in the injuries and illnesses which exacerbate your fear and anger.  There is a brokenness to life on earth afflicting body and soul, home and family, business and finance.

From sire to seed the curse descends.  To be conceived and born as a child of man in this mortal world is always to inherit a terminal disease.  There’s no denying or escaping it.

That’s not to say there are no blessings or good things.  Surely there are, by the grace of God.  But in this poor life of labor, it is always a mixed bag, and at bottom it is like the grass that withers, the flower that fades, and the dust that is blown away.  Even in the midst of real life and the many good gifts of God, death pursues you and surrounds you because of sin.

All men die, because all men sin.  And the perversity of that sin is never greater than when you deny it, and take credit for what you have received, as though you had achieved it for yourself, and pridefully presume to make a name for yourself, to make your own way and a life for yourself.

By contrast, what the Lord Jesus Christ has received from His Father is Life and Grace and Glory and the Name above all names; not only from eternity as the only-begotten Son of God, but also in His true manhood, in His own Body of human flesh and blood.  For He is anointed by the Spirit as the Christ at His Baptism in the Jordan River, and the Spirit rests and remains upon Him.

Not for His own benefit does He receive the Holy Spirit, but in order to become your Savior from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  Thus He is driven by the Spirit from the waters of His Baptism into the wilderness in which you live and die, in order to contend with Satan as your great Champion, to take His stand beside you on the plain, even unto His Cross and Passion as the Son of Man.

He takes all your many transgressions, and not only yours, but those of the whole world, and the whole legacy of sin and death from Adam to the end of the age.  His Father in heaven lays it all upon Him, so that you might be rescued from the curse and every evil, justified, reconciled to God, and sanctified in body and soul, unto the life everlasting.

He puts His mouth in the dust.  He gives His cheek to the smiters.  He bears the reproach of God and man for the sins of all of Adam’s children.  And by His death, He puts sin and death to death in Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood, in the confidence that His Father will raise Him in accordance with the Scriptures.  In faith and hope, He waits quietly upon His God and Father.

So it is, that, in His Resurrection from the dead, you also are raised up with Him.  In His crucified and risen Body, you are brought to the Father in Peace; not for condemnation, but for eternal life.

Indeed, His God and Father has actually become your God and Father in Him; not by your works, but in spite of your sin, by His grace as a free gift, through the Gospel, through faith in the Gospel.

For as the Father raises the incarnate Son from death to life, so does the Son give Life to you and to all who believe in Him.  So has He given His Life to Leon, not only for a while, but forever.

The same Lord Jesus Christ works all of this in you, so that it becomes yours, as it is has also become Leon’s, by repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins.  It happens by your dying and rising with Christ, both to and from your Baptism, and so also day-by-day in the significance of your Baptism.

Thus, by various ways and means — by the way of the Cross, by the preaching of His Word, and by the curse and consequences of sin that you suffer in the world — God puts you to death, in order to raise you from death to life.  Even what you suffer because of your sin, and on account of the sins of others against you, is constrained to serve the purposes of God in conforming you to Christ, so that you become a son of God in Him.  Has He not taught you to pray, “Our Father”?

In Christ you receive a new legacy, a new inheritance, not of sin and death, but of the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.  This is the gracious gift of God, which you receive from Christ through the Gospel, as it is handed over from generation to generation.  It is a holy and precious tradition, passed on by Christian parents to their children, just as Leon gave it to his sons by taking them to church and having them taught the faith at Trinity in Utica.  And it is given by spiritual fathers, as well, to the children of God entrusted to their care within the life of the Church on earth.

There is a strong irony and contrast at work in this tradition of the Gospel, in which mortal men are able to give immortal life to their children, instead of simply sin and death.  It is obvious, for example, when a pastor has the privilege of baptizing his own son or daughter.  As a father, he has passed on the legacy of Adam, but as a pastor he bestows the grace of God the Father in Christ.

There is a similar paradox at work when a pastor is given to serve and care for his own earthly father in the Name of Christ, on behalf of our Father in heaven, as Pastor Fickel has done for his Dad in the final years of his life.  So did the son become the father, and by the Word of Christ, by the power of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, he was able to give life to his dying father.

By the Ministry of the Gospel, the legacy of sin and death is turned on its head and inside-out.  For you are baptized into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, and, because you die with Him, so do you also live with Him.  By faith in your Baptism, your life is hidden with Christ in God.

It is hidden.  Your Life in Christ is real, solid, and true, but it is hidden under the Cross in the dark shadows of death and the grave.  You are not able, here and now, to experience or feel it in your flesh and bones.  It is by faith, and not by sight.  You cling to the promise of the Gospel in the face of your own mortality and the mortality of your loved ones, your parents and your children.

And not only your flesh, but your faith, too, is constantly assaulted, attacked, and accused by the devil, the father of lies, who desperately seeks to rob and destroy the hope of Christ in you.  He troubles your heart and mind with the chaos of conflicting emotions, so that you are tossed about and torn apart, to the point that you cannot keep your bearings or remember what is true.  Anger at your Dad, or at yourself, or at the world.  Guilt for things you’ve done or said, or for what you should have done or said but didn’t.  Worries and anxieties over what the future holds for you and for your own children.  Doubts and fears, maybe verging on despair, because it seems too much.

It is a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contend within your heart, mind, and spirit.

But hear now the Voice of Christ Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, whose Word is Spirit and Truth.  He does not accuse or condemn you.  He judges you righteous for His own sake.  He speaks forgiveness, the free and full forgiveness of all your sins, of all your guilt and shame.  He does not toss you back upon yourself in regret for the past, but, in calling you to repentance, He calls you to faith in the mercies of God.  He calls you out of death and the grave, from the dust of the earth, to rise and live with Him forever in the bosom of your own dear God and Father.

For the fact of the matter is, that you share your dust and death, not only with father Adam, but now also with Christ Jesus, your Savior.  By His humble obedience unto His death upon the Cross, and by your Baptism into Him, He has become like you, and He makes you to be like Him.

Suffering is therefore not meaningless, pointless, or hopeless.  Indeed, it cannot be.  It is invested with divine significance by the suffering of God in human flesh and blood like yours.  What you suffer is a thus a participation in the Cross of Christ, an exercise of repentance and faith in Him.  Even a terminal illness — whether it be Huntington’s Disease, or cancer, or whatever it may be — must serve the gracious and merciful purposes of God for the life and salvation of His children.

Your Father does not afflict or grieve you willingly, but He subjects you to futility in the promise of the Resurrection, so that you learn to wait upon the Lord and hope in Him, to find your portion in Him alone.  He causes you grief, but only for the sake of His mercy, compassion, and steadfast loving-kindness.  He quiets your commotion, your outbursts of anger and frustration, so that you would listen to His Voice of the Gospel.  He humbles you, in order to exalt you in Christ Jesus.

He remembers that you are dust.  And from that very dust He forms you into the Image and Likeness of His own dearly-beloved Son, and He breathes into your body and soul the Breath of Life, the living and Life-giving Spirit of Jesus.

The One who promises is faithful forever.  And as He has done it in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, so shall He raise Leon at the last, and so shall He raise you to live with the Lord in Grace, Mercy, and Peace in the House of your God and Father.

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

04 March 2015

To Speak Christ as the Father Has Spoken

“Deeds, not Creeds!”  You’ve all heard that slogan.  Perhaps you’ve even used it yourself.  And there’s some truth to the concern.  If you’re gonna talk the talk, you better walk the walk.  Put your money where your mouth is.  Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only or talkers only.

But, for all of that, let your doing begin with your speaking, and let what you say be true.

Confess what is good and right, by confessing what God has done for you and said to you.  In this there is no conflict or competition between your Creed and your deeds, but the greatest continuity and harmony in the Lord your God, in holy faith and holy love.

Indeed, this word and work of confessing the faith is fundamental to the worship of God.  And you should not suppose that it is easy or a cop out.  You know better than that, if you consider how often you are scared and hesitate to speak the Word of the Lord, to confess and call upon His Name.  But it’s not because it’s often hard and sometimes dangerous that such confession is so important and significant.  It is rather because it is in keeping with who God is and what He does.

You speak what the Lord has spoken in the fear, love, and trust that He does everything by and with His Word.  As He created all things out of nothing by His Word, so does He also uphold and sustain all things in heaven and on earth by His Word, not only for this body and life, but for the life everlasting of body and soul.  So does the Father speak to you by His Son.  He speaks Christ Jesus to you, who is Himself the Word-made-Flesh, anointed by the Spirit in His Body for you.

And you, in turn, worship the Lord your God by speaking what is true, that is, by speaking what He has spoken to you in Christ Jesus.  You proceed from Sabbath listening to the right use of God’s Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, in proclamation and confession of His Word.

From the earliest days of the Christian Church, the Apostles’ Creed and the Our Father have been at the heart of this right worship of God.  They are foundational to orthodox faith and practice, because they are true.  They pray and confess the Word of the Lord your God.

Not only does this worship of the Word glorify and honor the Holy Trinity in Christ Jesus, but to speak of God in this way, as He speaks, and to speak to and for your neighbor as God speaks to you, is also the first and foremost service of love for your neighbor in the world.  Which is to say that your deeds of faith and love are centered in the Creed, in the confession of Christ.

By the Word and Spirit of God, you are given to speak His Word, and thus to breathe His Spirit.  Like God the Father, you speak the Word of Christ, His Son, and the Spirit of Christ speaks in you and breathes in you.  So it is that you breathe out the same Holy Spirit whom you breathe in, by speaking the Gospel that you hear, by forgiving the sins of others as you are forgiven by Christ.

This is a high and holy calling to which you are called as a Christian, that you should be given to speak the Word of God to your neighbor.  No matter how little you are, no matter how young or old you may be — whether you are well-educated or simple-minded and forgetful — in confessing the Word of God, in echoing what He has spoken, you are given to say what God the Father says.

No president or king can say or do anything better, more important, or more powerful than that.

Of course, as you speak, so should you also act.  Don’t be a hypocrite, presuming to speak the right words while living the wrong way.  Don’t deny your confession of Christ by continuing in your sin, as though His Gospel meant nothing and did nothing.  As you speak forgiveness, show mercy.

But in affirming the need for consistency in your words and actions, also bear in mind that your speaking is already an activity of your body and life, a doing of something real, whether for good or for ill.  When you speak from the heart of faith with your mind and your mouth, that is to live and act in love, to perform a divine deed by which you give life.  And likewise, when you speak, not from faith but from your sinful unbelief, you perform a devilish, satanic work that destroys life.

What you speak with your mouth — the sound of your voice, and the very words that you say — it all matters a great deal, and it makes a difference, good or bad, depending on whether what you say is good and right or wicked and wrong.  Certainly the Holy Scriptures regard what you say with your mouth, your lips and tongue very highly and very seriously.

Consider the case of Job, for example.  In all that he suffered, he did not sin with his lips.  He did not curse God, but he confessed his faith and blessed the Name of the Lord; he gave thanks in the face of all that he lost.  He relied upon the Lord for his righteousness.  He invested himself and his hope in the promise of the Resurrection, which he confessed against death and the devil.

What Job and others said and did not say is crucial to his story.  When, in response to his friends, he begins to assert his own integrity, then God speaks, and silences Job, and calls him back to repentance and faith.  Job listens in quietness.  He is both humbled and strengthened by the Word of God.  And then he confesses the Majesty, the Mystery, and the mercies of the one true God.  At which point God declares that Job has spoken rightly concerning Him, and that Job’s friends have spoken wrongly about God.  Significantly, Job also prays for his friends, and they are forgiven.

Now we have at hand a similar example in the case of Nebuchadnezzar.  Again, it is a matter of what is said, but, as you have heard, the great Babylonian king did sin with his lips.  And while the words were yet in his mouth, as he was thinking out loud with himself on the roof of the palace, the voice of God from heaven silenced him and disciplined him.  Whereas the prideful words of Nebuchadnezzar were false and empty and powerless, the Word of God was immediately fulfilled.

Because the proud king had spoken in praise of himself, he was driven to madness.  For this is real madness, to exalt yourself over and above the Lord; to credit yourself with all that you have; to praise your own name, as though your life, your possessions and achievements were your own.

So Nebuchadnezzar was driven away from other people to live with the animals, and to become like an animal himself, without words or reason.

Of course, the animals cannot speak like man, yet they acknowledge and praise the Lord their God and look to Him for their food in due season.  In this, they are both wiser and more innocent than sinful man.  They cannot confess the Lord in the way that man is privileged to speak the Word of God and call upon Him, but neither are they able to blaspheme the Holy Name of the Lord.

The ability and capacity to speak is both a powerful and a dangerous potential.  With your mouth, your lips and tongue, you are able to bless or to curse the Lord your God, to speak either truly or falsely, to help or to hurt your neighbor.  And you are held accountable for what you say, just as the king of Babylon was.  For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.

Thus Nebuchadnezzar was chastened and humbled by the Lord, who brings down the lofty and raises up the lowly.  And, humbled like the animals, he learned with the animals to look unto God.  His eyes and ears were lifted up to the Most High, and so too were his mouth and lips and tongue.  For his reason returned to him, the genuine logic of right words.  No longer did he exalt himself, but in humility he glorified the Lord with his speaking, with his words, and with his confession.  Then his counselors and nobles began to seek him out again, and he was restored to his throne.

In contrast to the madness of self-righteousness and blasphemy, this indeed is true divine reason, wisdom, and strength, namely, to speak the Truth concerning God Most High, and to praise the Name of the Lord:  That is to speak the Truth of who God is, what He is like, and what He does, by confessing what He has spoken concerning Himself.  It is to confess His Law and His Gospel.

With this Creed, you praise, exalt, and honor the Holy Triune God.  You worship Him rightly by such faith in His Word, by such confession of His Name.

With the same Word, you serve, support, and strengthen your neighbor; you call him to repentance and faith, to righteousness and holiness; and you comfort him with the mercies of Christ Jesus.

Do not underestimate how important your words can be to your brothers and sisters in Christ, and do not be afraid or ashamed to speak the Gospel to them, the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of the resurrection.  Speak the truth in love, yes.  If your neighbor is caught up in some trespass, you who are spiritual restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Such restoration will include, not only pointing out the fault and calling to repentance, but also the confession of Christ and His salvation.

You don’t have to come up with your own clever and creative words.  Usually, it’s better that you don’t.  Instead, speak the words that you have been taught from the Bible and the Catechism, the words that you have heard and received in the Church’s confession of Christ.

You have opportunity to do this all the time: one-on-one with your neighbor; with your family in your home, around your table; with your colleagues at work; with your classmates at school.

So also, when you are gathered together as the people of God, as the Body of Christ, you serve, support, and strengthen one another by your praying, confessing, and singing of the Word of God.  The Spirit of God thus dwells among you richly, in and with that Word that you speak to and for and with each other.  You fill each other up with the Spirit of Christ Jesus by the confession of His Name.  More often than not, the Lord who opens your mouth to speak and to sing in this way, will be caring for your neighbor and addressing his hurts in ways that you won’t even realize.

As a parent, you do this for your children — and for your children’s children from before they are ever born — by the catechesis and confession of Christ Jesus.  That is both your privilege and your responsibility as a Christian father or mother — that the Word of the Lord should be spoken and taught and handed over from one generation to the next — just as you also received that Word in the Creed and in the Scriptures from those who came before you in the faith and life of Christ.

For thousands of years, Christians have been confessing these same priceless words, in countless languages around the world, to and from the waters of Holy Baptism, and throughout the Church.  And by taking this confession of Christ upon your lips, as you also ponder it in your mind and treasure it in your heart and soul (for you speak as you believe), so are you strengthened in the one true faith and armored against the devil, all his works and all his ways.

Putting on the full Armor of God and wielding the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, is not merely poetic rhetoric, but the most practical and important admonition: By faith you hear and receive and make use of the Word that is preached to you and taught to you.  You rehearse it, and you exercise your faith in the Word, by actually speaking it, by praying and confessing it.

The Creed and the Our Father are a great place to start.  By such prayer and confession, you drown out the false words of wickedness with the true voice of divine Wisdom.  The devil cannot stand against that Word of Christ.  Whether you are two years old, twelve or twenty, 40, 60, 80, or 90, you speak that Word of the Lord, as He has taught you, and the devil has no choice but to flee.

This is something that you can and should do, as a baptized Christian, as a disciple of Christ Jesus: to be like your Teacher, your Master, and to speak as He has spoken to you and catechized you.

Of course, it is not your own work, reason, wisdom, or strength.  It is the gift of God, His Logic, His Righteousness and Peace, which surpass all human understanding, but which are given to you by His speaking of His Word to you, in which you rest, and by which you live in Christ Jesus.

It is by and with His Word that He is near you and abides with you.  By His Word that He foils the tempter’s power.  By His Word that He guides you, guards and keeps you, as your Staff and Stay.  It is by and with His Word that He is kind to you, and gentle and good, and heals you of all iniquities and all infirmities of body and soul.  It is by His Word that He holds the Cross before your closing eyes, in order to bless you by the forgiveness of the Cross: in life, in death, even unto the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting.  And by this Word He opens your ears to hear, your heart and mind to comprehend and believe the Gospel, and your lips and mouth to show forth His praise and glorify the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

01 March 2015

To Be with the Lord Jesus Where He Is

Do you wish to be a Christian, a disciple of Christ Jesus?  And would you follow Him, in order to be with Him where He is, both now and forever?

Then you must be taught by Him and learn from Him.

Not only that, but your ongoing catechesis must focus your attention on who this Jesus is.  And the big question will remain, at all times: What do you think of Him?

What do the people say?  What is the public opinion of Jesus?  Well, He’s a preacher of the Word of God, a preacher of repentance; and He’s another prophet, like John, and a baptizer.

And to be sure, He is all of these things, and more.

But the question is also put to you: Not only what you think, but who do you say that Jesus is?  What do your words and actions confess concerning Him?  What do you say about Jesus in your vocation as a Christian, in your own particular place in the world?

If your life says nothing at all about Jesus, then how shall your life be saved?

But what, then?  Who is this Jesus?

He is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed.  So have you confessed, by the grace of God the Father, already in your Baptism.  So, what will that mean for Him?  And what does it mean for you?

Jesus, the Son of the living God, is anointed by the Spirit of His Father to be the Son of Man; wherefore He must suffer many things, and die, and rise again for you and your salvation. And if you are His disciple, and you are taught by Him to carry the cross and follow after Him, then you also suffer and die and rise again.

Jesus puts this to you plainly.  Will you accept it and bear it?  Will He be your Lord and your God?  Or will you buck and resist His Word?  And would you presume to rebuke Him for His Cross?

Repent.  Get back in line behind Jesus, and follow Him.

Deny yourself, take up the Cross, and follow Christ.  Do not set your heart and mind on your own interests, and do not walk according to the worldly wisdom of self-preservation.  But give attention to the Word of God.  Fear, love, and trust in Him.

Such is the work of the Cross in your body and life here on earth.  It puts you to death, it crucifies and buries you with Christ, so that you may rise from the dead to newness of life and live forever in Him.  That work begins and remains rooted in your Baptism, and it continues all your days.

Real life and the one true God are found, not where you are prone to look (that is, within yourself), but in Christ, crucified and risen; in His Word of the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins; and in His holy flesh and blood.  This promise is for you and for your children.

Thus, not only must you be put to death to yourself, to your sin, and to the world, but so also your children must be crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ Jesus — if you would give them the salvation of their bodies and souls and the life everlasting.

Each of you is called to deny yourself, to take up the Cross, and to follow Jesus.  But you parents, you fathers in particular, are called to catechize your children in this way of the Cross.  That means teaching them the Word of Christ Jesus within your home and family, and bringing them to be taught within the household and family of the Church.

Fathers, teach your children the Bible and the Catechism, the Liturgy and the hymns of the Church.  And teach them by your example, too, by exercising your faith in the way you love and serve them — and in the way you gently serve and care for their Mom.

Prioritize the Gospel of the Cross in the way that you order and arrange your own life and your family’s.  Do not live for the acquisition of worldly goods, which perish, but let everything be bent toward the storing up of treasures in heaven, which are found only in Christ and His Gospel.

To live by faith in Him will put you and your children at odds with this adulterous and sinful generation.  Indeed, it puts you at odds with yourself, with your own sinful heart and fallen flesh.

To live according to His Word, by faith, under His Cross, is difficult and painful.  It is beyond your strength and seemingly impossible altogether — like the promise of God to ancient Abraham and barren Sarah, and like His covenant with them, which was finally fulfilled, against all odds, for them and for you and for all the nations, in the Cross of Christ.

The guarantee and certainty of this faith, by which you have peace, hope, love, and joy in the midst of tribulation, suffering, setbacks, and temporary disappointments, is that same Cross and Passion of Christ Himself, who is God in the flesh; and it is found in His bodily Resurrection from death and the grave to eternal life.  For He has not failed, and your faith in Him shall not be disappointed.

It is because of this Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, that you are reconciled to God.  Live and walk in Him, therefore, in the surety of what He has done, and in the way that He has gone.  In Him alone is where your life is found, now and forever, and there is no life anywhere else.

Even now, you are in and with Christ Jesus, because He has first of all established Himself for you, and He has given Himself for you.  So has He also given Himself to you, and established you in Himself.  That is the gift and the good work that He has granted to you in the waters of your Holy Baptism.  That is what He gives to you with His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion.

Thus, it is in Christ that you now live before God, righteous and holy, at peace, and hopeful even in the face of death.  So, too, your safety and security in Christ remain sure and certain, no matter how the world may hate you and hurt you, or despise and dismiss you, or ignore you as of no consequence.  The Lord remains steadfast and faithful, no matter how your own frail heart may waver with doubt or quail in fear, as even the heart of father Abraham did at times.

God’s promises to Abraham have indeed been fully accomplished, also for you, in the holy Seed of father Abraham, that is, in the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He is fruitful, and He multiplies His family throughout all the nations of the earth by the preaching of His Gospel.

No matter how many Christians ISIS may brutally burn or behead, they shall not be able to defeat or destroy those dear brothers and sisters, nor rob them of the life that is theirs in Christ Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross and thereby defeated death and the devil for us all.

And when you yourself are confronted with death, at whatever age, and by whatever means, you shall follow the Author and Perfecter of our faith through the dark valley and the very gates of Hades into His Resurrection and His Life everlasting.

You and all who are born again by the washing of water with the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, who believe in Him, are the true children of Abraham by grace through faith in the One who is both Abraham’s Son and Abraham’s Lord.  So you are an heir of God’s promises to Abraham. Yes, and much more than that, you are a son of God in Christ, and He is counted as your righteousness.

So does God your Father in heaven give life to you and to your mortal flesh, to your body and your soul, by the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.  And by the power of His indestructible life, so do you also live under His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  Yes, yes, it shall be so.  For even though you die, yet shall you live, and you shall be with Him, where He is, even forevermore.

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