27 September 2015

Salted by the Cross and at Peace in Christ

In what does your life consist?  What does it mean for you to live?

It is not by your own works, nor is it found in the wealth and wisdom of the world, but it is by the Name of the Lord that you live — as His child — by His grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

The Name of Christ has been granted to you in your Holy Baptism, inscribed upon your forehead and your heart, your body, soul, and spirit, by the Cross.  That is your strength and your salvation.  For so are you also anointed by the Holy Spirit for faith and life with God, who is now your own dear Father in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.

What, then, does this mean for you and for your life?

You are salted by the Holy Spirit through the Word of the Cross.  And so are you disciplined unto daily repentance by the Cross, which crucifies you to the world, to your sin, and to your self.

But so are you also “seasoned,” inside and out, with the peace and love of Christ the crucified, because you are granted new life through His forgiveness of all your sins, and you are righteous before God in His Resurrection from the dead.

In that light, how shall you deal with yourself?  And how shall you deal with your neighbor?

There is a kind of startling violence in the Word of Jesus today.  It is a violence, not against your body per se, far less against your neighbor at all, but a violence of the Cross against the sinfulness of your heart, and against all your sins of thought, word, and deed.

The truth is that your only hope and help, your life, and your salvation, both now and forever, are in the Name of the Lord.  His Name saves you, gives you divine life, and bears good fruit in you, in your heart and soul, and in your flesh, here in time and forever in the resurrection of your body.

By contrast, the sin that reigns in your heart and in your fallen flesh, your unbelief and idolatry, brings forth death in your body and actions, and leads to the damnation of body and soul in hell.

Both sinful unbelief and repentant faith are matters of the heart, which are embodied and bear fruit in your flesh, in your bodily life and actions.  And those actions of your body, in turn, substantiate and strengthen the attitudes of your heart, whether for good or for evil, for life or for death.

Therefore, deny your body the sinful desires of your lust and greed, your jealousy and selfishness, and live instead in the faith, hope, and peace that are yours in the promise of the Resurrection.

Live in and with your body, even now by faith, in view of the fact that your body shall be raised to live with God in His Kingdom forever.  For your body also bears the Name of God in Christ.

Live, therefore, in such a way that your body confesses and glorifies His Holy Name.

If your hand or foot or your eye is involved in sin — if you stretch out your hand to take what is not yours, or to hurt and harm your neighbor in his body; if your feet turn and walk away from your neighbor in his need, but they run to find trouble in places you ought not be; or if you look with lust at your neighbor, or at pictures of your neighbor, and allow your eyes to linger on such images that feed your covetous desire (which is idolatry) — in any and all such cases of sin, repent in your heart, and so also repent in your behavior.  Discipline your flesh to cease from doing evil and begin to do good.  Avert your eyes, divert your feet, and withhold your hand from wickedness.  But look to your neighbor in love, draw near to him in peace, and reach out your hand to him to give help.

To persist in your sin is already a kind of living death, a hellish and demonic existence on earth.

But to live by faith is to rely on the Name of Christ Jesus, unto the life everlasting.  To live by faith in His Name is to pray by and with His Word and Holy Spirit.  And to live by faith in His Name is to avail yourself of His Ministry of the Gospel — to seek it out, to ask for it, and to support it.

Stemming from what you thus receive, to live by faith is also to live in love, catechizing and caring for others in the Name of Christ.  It is to speak to and care for others as Christ Jesus does for you.

Would that all Christians would thus faithfully profess the Word of the Gospel they have heard!

In the way that you speak, and in the way that you act, deal with your neighbor in patience and peace, with long-suffering kindness, in mercy and forgiveness.  Be slow to anger, reluctant to hurt, eager to heal, and quick to forgive, just as you are forgiven in the Name of Christ Jesus.  Restore your erring brother or sister in a spirit of gentleness, for love’s sake, in the humility of repentance.

To say it simply once again, discipline yourself, your words and actions, not only to avoid what is not right, but also to do and to say what is good and right.  Live in that way whether you feel like it or not.  It is not hypocrisy but Christian discipline to do what is right when you’d rather not.

In all of these efforts and actions, and in all your failures — as you recognize your own sin and stumbling, which are all the more apparent as you strive to resist them — do not despair — and do not continue in your sins, either — but call upon the Name of the Lord, and rely on Christ Jesus.

Take to heart and rest assured that He cares for you and provides for you.  He forgives you all your sins for His own Name’s sake.  He raises you up, as well, in both body and soul, to newness of life each day in His own righteousness and holiness.  And so shall He also, finally and forever, raise you up from death and the grave to the life everlasting in heaven.

This is most certainly true.  For Christ has borne all your burdens in His own body on the cross.  Indeed, He alone has carried the whole burden of His people in His flesh and blood, in His living and His dying, in His perfect faith and holy love.  He has brought His people, you included, out of slavery to sin, through the desert of death, into the promised Kingdom of His God and Father.

And see here how He feeds you on the way, and how He feeds the vast multitude of His Church with Meat and Drink indeed: He pours out His Cup for you to drink His holy and precious Blood; and He gives you His own Body to eat, the life-giving Manna of God, which refreshes and restores your soul and renews your body for the resurrection and eternal life with God.

So it is that, even in the midst of death, here is real life and real living, which are yours in Christ.  He beholds you in love.  He comes to you and stretches out His hand to you in Peace.  He washes your dirty feet, and you are altogether clean by the forgiveness of His Word and Holy Spirit.  And at the last you shall behold Him; from your own flesh, your own two eyes shall see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him.  For He is your Redeemer, and He lives.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

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

21 September 2015

In Due Season

The eyes of all wait upon the Lord to open His hand and provide for all their needs in due season.  So did Betty also spend her entire life as a Christian waiting upon the Lord in faith.  But especially in these past four or five months, she waited.  Patiently and peacefully, yes, but also eagerly.  She watched and waited on the Lord.  She waited and prayed for the right time, the appointed time, when He would finally take her from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven.

Not that Betty was one to weep and moan, leastwise not in my experience.  But as much as she was able to find joy in her life and was so thankful for all the many blessings with which the Lord had blessed her on this earth, she knew her time here was drawing short.  She was ready to go home.

Especially in these last days and final weeks, she was very aware of how dependent she was on the care of others.  She was deeply appreciative of the help that she received from her children and various providers, but it is also a humbling experience to be in that position.  Old ladies, and old men, too, become like little children again.  We talked about that on my last visit with Betty, this past week, as we heard the Holy Gospel for the coming Sunday.  For Jesus takes the little child up into His arms, and He says that the Kingdom of God belongs to such a one as this.  Not because little children are so innocent or sinless, by no means, but because they are so helpless to care for themselves, and so they must rely upon and trust in those whom God has given to care for them.

To be so small and weak and helpless is a difficult cross and challenge to bear.  But it is also one of the ways by which God teaches you how to live, that is, by His grace and not by your own skill.

So, did Betty have her troubles?  Oh, yes, of course she did!  Some of you are well aware of that, because you were close to her, and you were there with her and helped her in her difficulties.  But so did you also discover that her heart was not troubled by those trials and tribulations of this life.

I don’t mean to suggest that Betty was never grumpy or distressed or saddened by her situation, although I rarely saw it, myself.  But the fact is that she knew, as St. Paul did, the secret of being content with her circumstances.  Such joy and peace she positively radiated throughout this long summer now past, in which she could hardly do anything but lie in her bed and wait on the Lord, and yet she did so quietly in hope, and she never stopped expressing her gratitude for God’s grace and mercy toward her.  What a remarkable witness in this final season of her life on earth.

And really, for as long as I have known her, these past twenty years, she had a way of seeing the good, the lovely, and the beautiful in this world.  She enjoyed reading books; and she had a great interest in history; and she took such pleasure in her garden flowers; and, oh, how she loved people in all their wonderful variety.  She made a conscious choice to dwell, not on the evil, but on the good, as the Apostle admonishes Christians to do.  That’s not naive; it’s divine wisdom.

The secret of such contentment, peace, and joy — the wisdom by which Betty lived — is that of faith in Christ, in His Word and promises, in His Cross & Resurrection, and in His Righteousness.  These are the works of God, which He has accomplished from before the foundation of the world and established for all eternity in the Body of His incarnate Son.  No one can add to any of this, nor can anyone subtract from it.  Nothing in all of creation can undo what God the Lord has done.

Betty lived and worked, she waited on the Lord, and she loved her neighbors in that hope and confidence of faith, because Christ comforted and cared for her; He strengthened and sustained her faith in Him by His Word of the Gospel, His forgiveness of her sins.  The “secret” is that simple.

Now, to be sure, the comfort and contentment of the Gospel are hidden for the time being, for this life on earth here and now.  They are hidden under the Cross.  Not that God is making sport with us, but that we should learn to fear God and to live by faith in His Word, and not by sight or the experience of our senses.  Neither presumptuously, nor pessimistically, but in the peace of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.

The Cross of Christ is laid upon your fallen flesh, as it was upon Betty’s, and as it is laid upon the whole of creation, so that you should learn the fear and faith of God and neither despair on account of your troubles nor make idols of this world with its beauty.  For this world, with all its ups and downs, with all its goods and evils, is perishing and coming to an end.  But so has the Lord also placed eternity in your heart, that you should long for Him, and look for Him, and wait upon Him, until at last you rest in Him, both body and soul, forever and ever.

If this divine wisdom is a “secret” hidden under the Cross, so is it also revealed in the Cross of Christ, in His Word of the Cross, and in His Body and His Blood, which are the fruits of His Cross.

This one Lord, Jesus Christ, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as you have heard this morning.  In Him you know the Father, not in the way of abstract trivia, facts and information, but as a son or daughter, as a member of His household and family: a little child in His Home and at His Table.

That is what is yours, and that is what is Betty’s in Christ Jesus, conceived and born of St. Mary, crucified, dead, and buried, risen from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of God the Father.

That is the place He has prepared for you, where you live already now by faith in His Gospel.  For in your Holy Baptism, you have died with Christ and risen with Him, and your life is now hidden with Him in God.  There it shall remain, safe and secure, until your life and your place with God in Christ are manifest in His appearing, in the resurrection and glorification of your body in Him.

Imagine that, even now, for dear Betty!  That her poor body, though it has suffered, declined, and deteriorated, and though it returns to the dust of the ground whence it was taken — her body shall be raised up at the last and glorified in Christ.  Healthy and strong; beautiful, lovely, and perfect; immortal and imperishable: Glorious in its appearing, like unto the glorious Body of Christ, with which, indeed, He has these many years and again last week fed her body for the life everlasting.

Even now, under the Cross — beautiful to faith alone — He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life in His means of grace.  Not only by what He has done and accomplished once for all upon the Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, but also by what He continues to do through the Ministry of His Gospel, by which He comes to forgive you all your sins and to receive you to Himself.

He comes to be and abide with you here and now, so that, now and forever, you may be and abide with Him in the presence of His God and Father.  That you should fear no foe nor any evil with Him at hand to bless.  For ills have no weight and tears no bitterness with the Victory of His Cross and Resurrection in view.  Neither death nor the grave can triumph over you in Him.  Nor could even these last great enemies rob Betty of her hope and happiness in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, she prayed and waited to depart from this world, and yet, to be with Him still.

That, again, is the “secret” of contentment, of peace and joy and gladness in any and all situations: In the fluctuations of the times and seasons.  In your daily labors, and in your rest and relaxation.  In your celebrations, and in your sufferings.  In your eating and drinking, sleeping and waking, and all your coming and going.  In your living, and in your dying.

All of these activities and circumstances are opportunities to live by faith and in love, to glorify God, to rejoice in His good gifts — to hear His Word, to receive His pledge and promise of eternal life and salvation, and to wait upon that which He shall do at the time He has appointed.

The outcome is already accomplished and certain in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  So is it certain for you, as it is for Betty, whom the Lord has now called to Himself in due season.

As she reclined in the green pastures of His Word, and was cleansed and refreshed by the waters of His Baptism; as she feasted at His Table here, and drank from His Cup, so does she dwell in the House of the Lord forever, a beloved child, a dear daughter of her God and Father in Christ.

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

20 September 2015

The True Greatness of Humility and Service

The heartbeat of the Christian faith and life is the Cross and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is likewise His Cross which His disciples are given to receive, to carry, and to rely upon for life.  For it is in the Cross of Christ that true divine greatness and the almighty power of God are made perfect in His voluntary weakness and demonstrated in His mercy and pity toward us poor sinners.

He has such compassion and bestows His charity upon you, not from some high and lofty, far-away distance, but up close and personal.  Nor is His giving to you like the painless writing of a check as an impersonal donation from your disposable income to some cause or another for the sake of a tax write-off.  But, no, His divine charity is the true greatness and real strength of self-sacrificing love and voluntary suffering, for the sake of saving you, though you have no way to repay Him.

So, then, in answer to the disciples’ question and discussion, it is Christ Jesus, and He alone, who is the greatest of all.  He stands head and shoulders above any and all other contenders.  Indeed, He is lifted up above all others when He is lifted up in death upon the Cross, and when He is then raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of His Father in righteousness and glory forever.

Again, His greatness is found precisely in His grace and mercy toward us, which He exercises in His obedience to the Father, and in His humble service to the point of His death upon the Cross.  It is in love for His Father, and in steadfast perfect faith in the Father who sent Him, that He takes up that Cross and offers up His Body and Life upon it in love and compassion for His neighbor.

In doing so, He has made Himself the least of all and the servant of all.  He who is the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God from all eternity, has become like a little child.  More than that, He actually was conceived and born as the little Child of St. Mary, in order to redeem the world and everyone in it, to rescue all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve from sin, death, and hell.

To be and to live like a little child, as Jesus has done for you and your salvation, is to live by faith in the Lord your God, in His Word and promises, and in His gracious providence.  It is to rely on Him, and to receive all that you need from His hand by way of those He has given to care for you.  It is to boast not in yourself but in His grace and mercy, and to give Him thanks and praise.

It is by living in this way on your behalf, by faith in His Father, in flesh and blood like your own, that the Lord Jesus — your Teacher and Master — has humbled Himself to render the greatest of all service, to become your Savior, and to save you at the cost of His own Body and Life.  So has He atoned for all your sins, reconciled you to God the Father, and poured out His Spirit upon you.

Of course, this is the great irony and paradox of Christianity: That forgiveness, life, and salvation are in the Cross of Christ alone; that your true and only life is in His innocent suffering and death.

Those who are called and catechized to be the Christian disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ — who are called to follow Him and learn from Him — are thus taught by His Word and by His example to be and live like Him: in faith toward God, and in fervent love for those He places around you.

So do you become like a little child and live by faith in your dear Father.  And so you also bear the Cross of Christ in self-sacrificing love and humble service for your neighbors in their need.  Not simply trading favors, tit for tat; nor doing good merely for those who can repay you in some way; but sacrificing yourself, giving up your time, treasures, and talents, for the sake of holy charity.

Understand that you are, in fact, a little child in relation to God.  You are dependent on Him for absolutely everything, and yet you are not able to repay Him at all.  As that is how it is for you, so then, learn to love and care for your brothers and sisters in Christ, and for all your neighbors in the world, regardless of their age or abilities, as your dear Father in heaven cares for all His children.

In particular, care for those who actually are little children, and for those who are like the little children, because they are so small and weak and helpless; because they need your help, and you are an instrument of your Father, like an older brother or sister caring for your younger siblings.

To live in these ways, both in general and in particular — to receive what you need from God, and to give to your neighbor as God gives to you — that is simply to live by faith and in love as a Christian.  It is to live by the Cross, by the fruits of the Cross of Christ, and so to bear such fruits for others after the same kind — at your own expense, but in the confidence of the Resurrection.

Sounds pretty good.  Except that it really is no wonder that the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus what He meant when He told them where He was going and what lay ahead of Him in Jerusalem.  They did not want to know or understand the Cross, neither His nor their own; for that is surely not the sort of greatness they had in mind in their discussion on the way.

Nor is that what you desire for yourself, either, truth be told; not according to your sinful nature.  Quite the opposite, actually.  The fallen flesh of your old Adam has other ideas entirely!  You do not want suffering but prosperity and pleasure.  And you do not want to serve, but to be served.

On your way through life, as you chart your course and blaze your trail, as you take your classes, do your job, and pay your dues, you also discuss and contemplate your greatness vis-à-vis others.  Not the greatness of the Cross, but the greatness of the world and its idols.  For that prize you compare and contrast, you jockey for position, you compete, and you maneuver for your own advancement, benefit, and profit.  That is what occupies your attention and captures your heart.

Consequently, you are not able to comprehend the Cross and Crucifixion of Christ Jesus, who lays down His life and sacrifices Himself, not for His own benefit, but entirely for others, even for those who have hated Him and been at enmity with Him, in order to save them from their sin and death, and to reconcile them to God in peace.  Such divine, self-sacrificing love is pure grace and utter charity — and so contrary to your own instincts of survival, self-preservation, and self-promotion.

Which is why you must be catechized, put to death, and born again to newness of life — by the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, and by the Cross of Christ which is preached to you in His Name — in order to become a little child of God and a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And then again, it is necessary to remember and bear in mind that the only true greatness is that of Christ Jesus Himself, who has become for you and for all the least and the last, the faithful Servant of God and Man, the Sacrifice to end all sacrifice for sin.  For not only has He become the little Child who lives by faith in His Father, but so also is He the sacrificial Lamb who lives and dies in love for God and Man, who takes upon Himself and takes away the sins of the world.

This is the great service that He has rendered and accomplished for you and for all.

And it is in this greatness of His own Cross and Passion that He gently calls you to Himself, again and again, and catechizes you by and with His Word and Holy Spirit unto repentant faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  And as the Father has raised Him from death and the grave, and has seated Him at His right hand in glory, so does He raise you from death to life, now and forever.

So has He given you a brand new birth and made of you a little child of God by your Holy Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  And He has sent His servants of the Word to you, to preach and teach and catechize in His Name and stead; to forgive you all your sins, and to nourish your faith  and life in Him by the means of His Gospel within the household and family of His Church.

Thus, He teaches you to be and to live as a child of God, not by the force and fury of the Law, but by caring for you and providing for you, and by loving you relentlessly, despite your daily sins, your unbelief, ingratitude, petty grumpiness, and persistent disobedience.  He calls you daily to repentance for all your sins, by calling you to the great goodness of His grace, mercy, and peace.

Not only does He feed and clothe and shelter you, guard and protect you, guide and lead you for this body and life, but He freely gives to you His own life in body and soul, for now and forever.  Which is to say that He feeds and clothes and shelters you, guards and protects you, guides and leads you unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul with Himself in the Kingdom of His own God and Father.

As He has given Himself for you unto death upon His Cross, so does He now give Himself to you from the Cross in the Sacrament of His Altar.  He humbles Himself in the form of bread and wine to feed you from His own nail-scarred hands, to serve you with His own holy Body, and to pour out for you, not only cold water, but that Cup which is the New Testament in His precious Blood.

Receiving these good gifts that Christ Jesus freely gives, you receive the Lord your God Himself, and you partake of His divine, eternal life.  That is the greatness of Christ and His Cross, which is now also yours as a child of God in Him, by His grace alone, through faith in His Holy Gospel.

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

13 September 2015

The Word of the Lord for the Weary Ones

Words matter.  They really do.

In fact, everything depends upon words, because the Lord our God does everything by His Word.

What you say and how you say it matters.  What you don’t say matters, too.  But all your speaking — be it is good or bad, positive or negative — it all depends upon the words that you hear and receive.  “Garbage in, garbage out.”  Or, much to be preferred, “Good stuff in, good stuff out.”

So it is that you cannot believe in the one true God with all your heart, nor are you able to confess Him rightly with your lips, except by the hearing of the Word of Christ.  You cannot pray, praise, or give thanks, and you cannot call upon the Name of the Lord, except by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus.  You cannot bless God or your neighbor, but you are only able to curse, swear, lie, and deceive, foam at the mouth, and grind your teeth, without the Word of Christ in your ears.

That is why it is so fundamental to the faith and life of the Church, and so necessary to your own Christian faith and life, that there be preachers and teachers of Christ Jesus.  That is why preachers must be sent to preach the Gospel in His Name; why teachers must teach as the oracles of God; and why disciples must listen and learn, and hear and heed His Word, if they are to be His disciples.

To be a Christian, therefore, first and foremost, is to hear the Word of Christ Jesus with the ears of a disciple.  And to be a Christian is then also to confess with your mouth the Word that you have heard, that is, to speak the same thing that God has spoken to you by His Son — that same Word of Christ Jesus — and by that Word to pray, praise, and give thanks from a heart of faith.

To speak with the tongue and lips of a disciple is to glorify the Name of the Lord by confessing who He is and what He has done, and thereby to sustain the weary one with the Word of Christ.

That is what pastors are to do, as preachers and teachers of the Word of Christ; and they are held to a strict accountability for that work, because so much depends upon preaching and teaching.

By the same token, so it is that husbands and wives are to speak the Word of Christ to each other.

Fathers and mothers, likewise — along with and far above all of their other responsibilities — they are to catechize their children with the Word of Christ from infancy to adulthood.  Not only by careful and consistent instruction, which is basic, but also by their own practice and example.

What you say and how you say it matters.  It really does.

Consider the consequences of your speaking, be it good or bad, for those entrusted to your care.  If you speak the Word of Christ to your children, for example, they will learn to speak it, as well.  But if you curse, swear, lie, and deceive — if you yell and scream a lot; if you mock and make fun of other people; if you gossip, complain, and criticize; if you engage in vulgarity or tell dirty jokes — what then will your children learn to speak?  What will they believe, teach, and confess?

Consider, too, that father at the foot of the mountain in the Holy Gospel this morning, especially by comparison and contrast to the faithful Syrophoenician woman you heard about last Sunday.

This father today must first of all be catechized, so that he might pray and confess rightly from a heart of faith in bringing his poor son to Jesus.  He must first be catechized by the Word of Christ, so that he will have a Word of Christ for his son, to strengthen and sustain that weary child.  For there is still the ongoing care that will be required of this father for his son beyond this occasion.

He must hear and believe the Gospel, in order that he might confess it and speak it to others.

He must be forgiven all his trespasses, and so learn to forgive those who trespass against him.

The very same thing is true for you, no less, and for your children and your children’s children.

But the Word of God is not a magic formula, nor a button to be pushed on some kind of machine.  His Word is not a tool in your hand to be mastered and manipulated at your personal whim.

You cannot open even your own ears to hear it, nor can you open your own mind and heart to comprehend it and believe it.  Neither can you convert your neighbor’s heart and life, although you can and should confess the Word of Christ by which alone anyone’s heart and life are converted.

On the surface of it, sure, it is fundamental that you must keep on listening and learning, hearing and heeding the Word of Christ.  Even if you’ve heard it all before and remember every syllable, it still remains the case that you must keep on listening and learning.  Apart from that, all is lost.

But even with that effort and discipline to avail yourself of the Word and listen to it, still, it is not by your own reason or strength, neither by your own intelligence or wisdom that you believe the Word and trust in it.  No, that is by the power of the Word itself, by the working of the Holy Spirit through that Word of Christ, where and when it pleases Him.  It is a divine Mystery of His grace.

So also, then, for your neighbor as for yourself; for your parents, spouse, and children.  You speak the Word of Christ to them in faith, but you cannot force or constrain any of them to believe it.

Instead, as often as you listen, and as often as you speak, pray that Christ by His Spirit would open your ears to hear, your heart to believe, your lips to confess His Name and show forth His praise.

That is the point and purpose of the Collect in the Liturgy.  For the Church does not presume even to hear the Word of God relying on herself, but she beseeches the Father for the gift of His Spirit.

So listen to His Word with confidence, but not presumptuously.  And as you hear, so also speak.

And do actually pray that you and your neighbor would hear and believe.  For it is only by God’s grace that anyone does.  Blessed are you, and Christ be praised, if you hear and believe His Word.

Not that it’s easy.

For now, you find yourself caught — like that poor father at the bottom of the mountain — down in the valley between faith and unbelief, between life and death, between God and the devil.

Scary stuff, indeed, and left to yourself you cannot win.

And when the Church’s prayer is answered — when the Word of Christ Jesus strikes home in your heart and life — then there is a strange and dreadful confrontation, and a war in your members.

You are thrown into the fire and into the water, as though you were going to be utterly destroyed.

Truth be told, you are put to death by the Word of the Lord, as the Sword of the Spirit slices and dices between yours bones and marrow and cuts you even to the quick of your unclean spirit.

But it is by the fire of the Holy Spirit and by the waters of your Holy Baptism that you are put to death by the death of Christ, even the death of His Cross.  And by these ways and means of His Word, you are brought to repentance and faith through the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  Consequently, death and the devil do not get to have the last word.

For in these last days, God has spoken to you by His own dearly-beloved and well-pleasing Son, who has come down from heaven to help you and save you; who has gone through the fire and the water — going ahead of you through death and the grave, and blazing the trail for you — in order to deliver you from death and open the way of life to you, to bring you into His own Resurrection.

And that same Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus is here for you, whose tongue and lips speak Peace and Life to you; who prays for you at the Right Hand of God, and whose Spirit also intercedes for you at all times, even when a deaf and mute spirit has gripped your ears and your tongue and lips.

Christ is here for you, and He stretches out His hand to lay hold of you in love, to raise you up from the dust and the dirt to the life everlasting.  So has He opened your ears to hear and your heart to believe, and so does He open your mouth to receive the Bread of Life with which He feeds you.

As you have heard, and as you believe, so may you speak, and so may you live by His grace alone.

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

06 September 2015

More Than Crumbs from Your Father's Table

The woman’s little daughter with the unclean spirit, and the deaf man with the speech impediment, they are both entirely passive.  Neither of them does or says anything in this Holy Gospel.  Nor are we told anything at all about their faith.

Yet, the little girl is cleansed, her demon is cast out; and the man’s ears are opened, his tongue is released from whatever had bound it.  Both of these gracious miracles are worked by the mighty Word of Jesus, and, in the latter case, by the touch of His hand, by His fingers and even His spit.

This Lord Jesus has taken the initiative in coming near, and the Word about Him goes before Him, eliciting faith on the part of those who hear the proclamation and confession of His Gospel.

It is in such faith, in response to the Word, that the woman prays and intercedes for her daughter, and that “they” (whoever they are) bring the deaf man to Jesus and pray and intercede for him.

These are works of faith and love, which exemplify how you also are to live.  So, then, trust the Lord Jesus, and call upon His Name, not only for yourself, but on behalf of your neighbor.  Pray and intercede for others in their need, and bring your neighbors to Jesus, that is, to His Church, to the House where He Himself is found in the preaching of His Word and in His Holy Sacraments.

But do you actually do it?  No, not like you should.  Of yourself, you do not have “ears to hear,” and so you are not able to speak rightly in prayer and confession.  You are sinful and unclean.

Consider how much your spirit is turned inward, how focused upon yourself, upon your wants and needs, your hurts and fears.  You’re folded in upon yourself and eaten alive by your own ravenous appetites.  You are consumed by your desires, by your covetous lust for that which is not God.

Though you may give lip service to a faith in God, your heart is often cold and hard, and your love for others often lacking and inactive, because at heart you do not trust the Lord Jesus.  You don’t believe that He cares for you, and that He is willing and able to help you.  So you are anxious and afraid for yourself and your life — and genuine love does not proceed from such anxiety and fear.

And yet, your God has come in person, in the flesh.  He comes to you, not only with His Law, with its demands and prohibitions, its threats and punishments, but with His Gospel of salvation, with grace and mercy for you.  His love is not cold.  His heart is not hard.  His faithfulness never ends.

He comes to you in peace, and His Word is preached before His face.  He says to your anxious heart, “Take courage!  Do not be afraid!”  He comes to help you, to save you.  He is here for you.

Your sin and death, your unbelief and unrighteousness have separated you from Him and cut you off from Him.  You have been a gentile, a stranger to God and His people, a foreigner — yes, that is what you have been.  Like a stray dog, a mongrel kicked aside, cast out of the house and yard.

But the Lord has drawn near to you in peace and love.  That fact remains.  The Gospel declares it to be so, and His Gospel does not lie, nor does He deceive you.  This Christ Jesus desires to help you — despite the scary thunder of His Law, which dismisses you and seems to send you away.

It would be so easy to turn tail and run.  After all, His Law reduces you to nothing.  It exposes all your sins and failings, and it makes your unworthiness painfully clear.  Who are you to approach the Lord or to ask Him for anything at all?  You are a beggar to be sure.

But right there in your unworthiness, recognize that He is worthy of your petition.  Knowing your need, know also His mercy and gentle kindness.  He would not have you go away, but He would have you pray to Him, and to rely on Him alone.  Therefore, as you kneel before Him, and as you lay yourself before Him, worship Him by faith, that is, by seeking all good things from His hand.

It is for this purpose that He has come.  And not only does He come to you, right where you are — in the barren desert of this fallen and perishing world, and into your pagan Tyre and Sidon — but He also fully takes your predicament, your circumstances and dire situation upon Himself.

Because He is your merciful and great High Priest, He bears all your infirmity, weakness, and disability in Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood.  He carries all your griefs and sorrows, and all of your sins and iniquities, as well as the sins of those who trespass against you.  And He suffers all the assaults and accusations of the devil, which have been aimed at you and against you.

He takes the whole burden and perfection of God’s Royal Law entirely upon Himself, every jot and tittle of it.  He keeps it all in steadfast faith and holy love.  And yet, in mercy and compassion for you and for all sinners, He also suffers all the punishments of the Law for each and every sin.

He offers Himself to God on your behalf as the Sacrifice of Atonement to cleanse you of all evil, to redeem you from sin and death at the cost of His life.  He is also the sweet-smelling Incense of prayer and intercession, by which you are reconciled and brought near to God in peace and health.  Where you are not able to pray, Jesus intercedes for you with His deep groans of faith and love.

Thus has He become your Savior from sin and death, and so is He able to help you in every need, to give you life instead of death.  And all of this He does, as surely as you have heard this very day, by the Word of His Gospel and by the touch of His hand, by His own Body of flesh and blood.

He does it by His Christians, who pray and intercede for you, and who serve as instruments of the Spirit, bringing Christ to you and you to Christ.  And you are called to do the same thing for others — for your neighbors in the world, and especially for your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

Do not underestimate but give thanks and praise to God for those Christians who call upon the Name of the Lord for your faith and life and salvation.  Remember how the Syrophoenician woman prayed for her daughter, and think of how St. Monica prayed for her son, Augustine.  So do your father and mother, sisters and brothers, family, friends, and neighbors pray and intercede for you.  Not as though the Lord had to be nagged and coerced into helping you, but because He delights to work in this way through His children, that they might participate in His own Life and Love.

So, too, by the Ministry of His Gospel, by His preaching and Sacraments, by His Holy Absolution, by His Body and His Blood — by the mouth and hand of His servants who speak and act in His Name and stead — He casts out all your demons, and He heals all your diseases.  He opens up your ears to hear His Voice, your mind to comprehend His Word, and your heart to believe His Gospel.

And by this same Word of the Lord Jesus, He also opens up your lips to show forth His praise.

He sets your tongue free to confess His holy Name, to pray, praise, and give thanks.  He opens your lips to speak rightly to and about Him — and to speak with love to and about your neighbor.

And not only with His Word in your ears and on your tongue does He draw near to you, in order to help you and abide with you.  He also lays His healing hand upon you in gentleness and peace.

He has washed you with water and His Word in Holy Baptism, so that your body, soul, and spirit together are cleansed and sanctified; and so are you kept blameless unto the day of His appearing.

He places on your lips and on your tongue His Body and His Blood, so that He dwells in you and with you most intimately, and you live and abide in Him, here and now, and forever hereafter.

Your body and mind, your heart and soul, and all your thoughts, words, and actions thus receive and share the Life and Love of Christ.  And that means bearing His Cross in faith and love to the glory of His Name, even unto death.  It also means rising with Him unto life everlasting.

This is most certainly true.  Not as though you had no sin, but because all of your sin is freely and fully forgiven by Christ through His Gospel.  And not as though you were not mortal, as though you were not dying, but because your body is raised up to newness of life in the Resurrection of the Body of Christ Jesus from the dead.  You live and walk with Him on the highway of holiness, because He has made you clean and sanctified you by His Word and Holy Spirit.

Therefore, you are no longer a stranger, an alien, or an outsider.  You are not a dog, but a beloved child in your Father’s house.  Here you are seated at your Savior’s Table — at the Lord’s Table for the Lord’s Supper, given and poured out for you.  Here take up the Cup of Salvation and call on the Name of the Lord.  Take and eat, not crumbs, but the Bread of Life from the hand of God.

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