25 October 2015

Now Joshua Comes Again to Jericho

Now Joshua comes again to Jericho.  Not to bring down the walls, but to raise up the people from death to life, to rescue them from every evil of body and soul.  He comes to save His people from their sins, and to bless His heritage.  And with that, He comes for something more specific and more personal:  To honor one poor man among the many.  To give him hope.  To give him life.  To give him the good land the Lord has promised.  To give him a place in the Kingdom of God.

His disciples and a large crowd accompany Him, as the Israelites followed the Joshua of old.  But the blind beggar by the side of the road perceives something about this Jesus, the Nazarene, more clearly than anyone else at this point.  He hears the Word of the One who has come, and by the Spirit of Christ he acknowledges the promised Son of David, the true King who gives rest.

The blind man’s name is Bartimaeus, the “son of Timaeus,” which is to say, the son of “honor,” of “worthiness” or “worth.”  Yet, look at his predicament!  There’s no presuming of any merit or worthiness here.  He looks not to his own pedigree, but to the House and Lineage of David.

Bartimaeus knows his need, or at least he has begun to know his need in part, and already he has realized that his only hope and help shall be in this Lord Jesus Christ.  In this he sees truly, what even the twelve were not yet able to comprehend.  They have wanted the Lord to share with them His greatness and His glory, and they have offered their boldness, their bravery, and their sacrifice as barter.  But not so, Bartimaeus.  He offers only his blindness, in hopes of regaining his sight.  He pleads not his strength, but his weakness.  Not his contributions, but his emptiness.  Not his honor, but disgrace.  Not his merit, but the grace of God in Christ.

He is a charity case, and he knows it.  And in this beggary of his, blind Bartimaeus worships and honors and glorifies Christ, who comes not to be served but to serve, and to give His life to man.

The beggar receives what he sought, that is, the mercy of the Lord and grace to help in his time of need.  But he is also given far more than he asked.  In regaining the use of his eyes, he begins to realize a much deeper longing and a far greater need, namely, to see God, to behold the glory of Yahweh, and to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord — all of this realized in the face of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, along with his eyesight, Bartimaeus receives the Lord Jesus Himself.  He becomes a disciple of the One he has called “Rabboni,” a Teacher.  He begins to follow Jesus “on the way,” that is, to be catechized in the way of the Cross, which is paradoxically the way of Life in Christ.

In calling upon the name of the Lord for mercy, in the hope that he might see, the blind beggar has become a catechumen of the Cross.  In this way he enters with Joshua into the Promised Land, and with the Son of God into the presence of the Father.

So now, the question is: What do you want the Lord Jesus to do for you?  What do you need?

If you are blind or losing your sight, of course you want to see.  You need to see!  But, with or without your eyesight, what is your real blindness?   What is it that you do not see?  What do you refuse or fail to recognize?  What shadow lies upon your heart, what darkness clouds your mind?

If you are hungry, you need food, and you want to be fed.  But as soon as you have eaten your fill, you are seized by some new appetite.  If you are naked, you need clothes; you want to be covered up.  But as soon as you are dressed, you long for some further adornment, beauty, or comfort.

There is no final contentment or satisfaction when it comes to the wants of your flesh, nor with respect to the needs of your body in this life on earth.  For you are dying and wasting away, and no amount of food and clothing, nor anything else, will ever be sufficient to prevent that.  And yet, even so, how easily are you preoccupied with attempts to pamper and preserve your mortal life?

Vanity, the Bible calls it.  Chasing after the wind!  None of it does any good.  But neither should you resort to the opposite extremes, nor succumb to despair.  That, too, is sinful, and useless.

With food and clothing, let us be content.  But even as regards those most basic wants and needs of the body, the Lord teaches you not to be anxious or worry.  Your Father knows what you need, and He will provide for you.  He feeds the birds and clothes the flowers, along with all the wicked who neither know Him nor acknowledge Him.  He shall do no less for you, dear Christian, for you are His beloved child.  He has created you in holy love, and He delights to serve and care for you.

As for you, then, seek the Lord Himself while He may be found.  Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and you shall lack for nothing at all, but everything else shall be added unto you.

That is what you truly need.  But that is also what you cannot see.  That is your real blindness.

We are all blind beggars, that is the truth.  So, then, repent of your pride.  Acknowledge your need.  Call upon the name of the Lord for mercy.  Pray to Him for your daily bread, as He has taught you and invited you to pray.  And doing that, pray also for the true faith which is what you need the most; that the Lord God would grant you patience to wait on Him, and to receive your bread with thanksgiving; and that you would thus learn to live by every Word and promise that He speaks.

Pray to the Lord Jesus for mercy, that you would receive your sight, which is to have faith in His forgiveness of sins.  Pray, then, for the Holy Spirit, which is the gift of God Himself.  Not simply a gift from God, but God the Father gives to you His Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, His Son.

And then it all gets raucous and scary, as though all hell were breaking loose against you, no less crazy and chaotic, all around you, than when that other Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho and burned the city to the ground.  So it seems there is no hope or help for you.  Partly because the Lord Jesus comes by the way of the Cross, the grace and the glory of which are hidden from sight, whether you have eyes or not.  And partly because there are so many voices, whispering and shouting, within and without, all of them telling you to “sit down” and “shut up.”  As soon as you begin to pray, to call on the name of the Lord, those voices tell you sternly to be quiet.  Loudest among them is God’s own Law, which exposes your sin, your dishonor and unworthiness.

But now God speaks another Word, a different Word, a new and better Word than all those many voices put together.  This Word cuts through all the chaos and the noise, and it reveals to your heart and mind the truth that is hidden from your eyes.  It speaks of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, the merciful Son of David, the promised Savior who has come.  He has drawn near.  And though He seems to be passing by and going away, He has now taken His stand both with you and for you.

Take courage!  Arise!  He is calling you to Himself by His Ministry of the Gospel, His preaching of grace and forgiveness.  So He did for Blind Bartimaeus, and so He does for you.  Have no fear, but fix your blind eyes on this Jesus by hearing and heeding His call.  It is a gentle command, or, really, a most gracious invitation.  Not that you must save yourself by some heroic effort, or by some great bold act of courage, but that He has come to save you, and that He is here to help you.

Your dishonor does not disqualify you.  Your unworthiness shall not undo you.  Your beggary honors this Lord Jesus, who is worthy of your petition.  Your need is met with the abundance of His charity.  Bring nothing else than that.  In fact, cast off your own wretched garments, whether fig leaves or fine threads, and be clothed in Christ Jesus, dressed in His glorious righteousness.

Find your life in Him who is calling you to Himself, and follow Him by faith, by the catechesis of His Word, on the Way that brings you into the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

That is what He has already given you, by His grace, in the waters of your Holy Baptism; and that is what your Baptism still indicates for each and every day of your life on earth.  For it is by “streams of water” that the Lord Jesus leads you on a straight and narrow path, that is, by the way of His own Cross, through death and the grave into life and salvation.  You die with Him, in order to live with Him.  That is your vocation, your calling as a Christian, that is, to live and die by faith in Christ according to His Word and Spirit, and so to live before God in righteousness and purity.

For Christ Jesus is your merciful and great High Priest.  Which is another way of saying that He is the new and greater Joshua, who goes before you into a new and better Canaan, crossing over through the waters of the Jordan in order to possess the Land of God and to bestow it upon you.

He has drawn near to you, not only in proximity, but in making your predicament His own.  He is up to His neck and immersed in the same waters that you are drowning in.  Therein He shares your griefs and bears your sorrows.  He fully takes your sin and death upon Himself, your blindness, your poverty and shame, in order to remove the curse.  At the same time, He dedicates Himself entirely to God on your behalf.  He is the sacred Sacrifice, who offers Himself for the Atonement of all sins, for the Redemption of all people, and for the Reconciliation of the entire world to God.

Therefore, He has come, and He has drawn near to you here, in order to take away your sins on the one hand, and on the other hand to gather you to Himself and to bring you near to His own God and Father as a beloved child.  So fully has He taken your place, that His place is now yours.

As you bear His Cross and share His death by your Baptism into Him, so do you also share His bodily Resurrection from the dead and His Ascension in the flesh to the right hand of the Father.

As He has been made perfect in holy faith and holy love by His sacrifice upon the Cross for you, so does He bring you and all your prayers to His God and Father, who is now your own God and Father, in perfect peace.  “By supplication He leads you.”  Which is to say, not only does He ever live to intercede for you, but He Himself is your Prayer in the ears of God, your sweet-smelling Incense in the nostrils of His Father.  As He is thus heard and received in the heavens, in the Holy of Holies made without hands, in the very bosom of the Father, so are you heard and received.

By His own faith and faithfulness, the Lord Jesus upholds and sustains you.  His steadfast love is your salvation, which endures forever and ever.  Indeed, He holds His Priesthood permanently.

In Him, in His Face and in His Flesh, in the Sound of His Voice, which is the Gospel, the true Sun has risen upon you, which shall never go down nor be eclipsed.  He shines on you, and He remains forever your Light and your Salvation.  No more darkness, no more night.  Instead, you live and abide in His glorious, eternal Day — as He abides with you here, and with His Father in heaven.

In Him shall you see God.  As you do even now by faith in His Gospel, so then with your own two eyes, in your own resurrected body, you shall see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him.

Take courage!  Arise!  He is calling you to Himself, to eat and drink, to taste and see, and to live.

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

18 October 2015

Remember the Sabbath Day

Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.  Do not despise the preaching of God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  For it is by this way and means of preaching that God grants you peace and rest through the forgiveness of all your sins and the gracious gift of His life.  And in the receiving and trusting of His gifts, you worship Him by faith in Jesus Christ, His Son.  In fact, that is how you live and do not die: day by day here on earth, and hereafter in eternity.

The way that you live and work and go about the days of your week hinges on whether and how you keep your Sabbath rest.  Do you think of your rest as the due reward of your labor?  Or do you understand your work to be a way of living in the peace and rest that God gives you by His grace?

When you know your life to be from God — in God and with God — and you live your life before God, in His presence, turned toward Him in heart and mind, in body, soul, and spirit, then you have true peace and genuine rest, even as you work hard to do your job.  Even in your death.

But when you work as though to make life for yourself by your labors, and when you live for the accumulation of wealth and riches on earth, then you have no peace and no rest.  Not even when you call it a day and go to bed.  Not even when you’re on vacation, relaxing and living it up.

These are the chronicles of life and death and everything in between.  For the way your life begins, and the way that it will end, ought to inform the way that you live all of your days in between.

The fact is that your life comes entirely from God, and when you die He will be your Judge.  So consider that you were naked when you were born into this world, and even within your clothes and your coffin you’ll be naked before God in the end, when you return to the dust of the earth.  Whatever you may hold in your hands in your life on this earth in the meantime are gifts, not by merit, but by mercy.  And such things on earth are temporary.  So, what shall you do with them?

Ask yourself this question: Who or what is it that you worship with your life?  That is to say, who or what do you serve with your body, with your heart and mind, and with your words and works?

Do you worship the right God in the right way?  Do you fear, love, and trust in the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by faith in His Word?  If so, then you are alive, and you are living by His grace, come hell or high water against you; and even though you die, yet shall you live.

But if you do not love the Lord, the one true God, and if you do not serve and worship only Him, then you are dead and dying in your false belief and sin, which is idolatry, even as you live.

Or, here’s another way to think about it:  What is it that rules your life?  And what, then, does your life look like?  For that is “the kingdom” in which you live, whether of God or the devil.

Real life in the Kingdom of God does not originate with your works, nor does it consist of your wealth, but it is received by faith in the Gospel, and it is lived in love for the sake of Christ Jesus.

To be sure, there are all sorts of wealth and riches in the world to which you are tempted and prone to cling, for which you hunger, strive, and fight, as though your life and happiness depended on such things.  But whether you “have” or “have not,” whether a lot or only a little, it is impossible for you to enter the Kingdom of God by your wealth and riches of whatever sort.

In fact, not only will your “wealth and riches” not get you into heaven; they present a temptation, a covetous desire that actually threatens to consume you, which makes it that much harder and all the more impossible for you to enter into the Kingdom of God at all.  Your stuff stands in the way.

Where, then, is the promise of peace and rest?  It is found only in Christ Jesus, in His Cross and Resurrection; and it is granted to you by His grace in the preaching of His Gospel.  Faith is born of that preaching, as it receives and trusts the promises of God in the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins and the free gift of life; and so does faith have rest and peace in the Lord Jesus.

Listen, then, and hear His Word to you.  He has already made Peace for you by the reconciliation of His Cross.  And He has established Sabbath Rest for you in His Resurrection from the dead, which is your righteousness in the presence of God.  All of this that He has done for you, He desires to share with you, and He does so here and now — Today! — with His voice of mercy.

In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was established with the finished completion of Creation and with the Exodus from Egypt, in order that the Lord might grant rest to His people by His works.

So did God, the Lord, create His people out of nothing, and redeem them out of death into life, out of slavery into freedom.  And He brought them through the desert wilderness, across the Jordan River, into the good land that He had promised, wherein He gave them peace and rest on all sides.

And all these things, which the Lord did for His people then, He has fulfilled in Christ Jesus for you and for all people.  By His Holy Cross and Passion, He has redeemed you from death and damnation, and He calls you out of your slavery to sin into the freedom of His forgiveness.  That is the Sabbath Rest that remains for the people of God, and so also for you, by faith in His Gospel.

And by His Resurrection and Ascension, He brings you and all His people through the waters of Holy Baptism into the heavenly Canaan, into the Kingdom of His God and Father, in His Body.

It was not easy for Him to accomplish this great salvation.  Indeed, how costly and painful it was!  And yet, He has done it gladly and willingly in divine and holy love.

And what He has done and established by His hard work, by His bloody sweat and labor, He grants to you as peace and rest in His means of grace, that is, in Holy Baptism, in the Holy Communion, and everywhere in the Holy Gospel; so that you have Sabbath Rest in Christ Jesus — even as you go about your works of love within your own stations in life — and even as you face your death.

As you have died with Christ and given up everything in your Baptism — renouncing the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh, and laying hold of life in Christ, in His Father and His Spirit — so do you now live and work on earth, in the place where God has stationed you, by faith in Him.

So, too, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ is your Peace and Rest, here in time and hereafter in eternity.  For all things in heaven and on earth are yours in Him, by grace, through His Cross.

Christ has finished His perfect work on the Sixth Day, Good Friday, atoning for the sins of the whole world and reconciling the world to God.  And He has rested on the Seventh Day, that Holy Saturday, the Sabbath, in order to sanctify your rest in Him, so that even your grave and the graves of all His saints are made holy by His own tomb.

In His Resurrection, His Body has become the first fruits of His New Creation, and His Flesh and Blood are the New Passover, by which He has accomplished the new and greater Exodus.  Indeed, all things are fulfilled, perfected, and made brand new in Him, in His Body of flesh and blood.

Therefore, do not harden your heart by setting it upon your own works or your own wealth, but worship the Lord your God by faith in the Person of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  Remember His Sabbath and keep it holy unto yourself by hearing His Gospel, by receiving His mercy and grace, and by eating and drinking His Body and Blood at His Word in faith and with thanksgiving.

For He does remember you with His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, and He sanctifies your body and soul for the life everlasting, and He gives you peace and rest in Himself forever.

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

11 October 2015

Christ Jesus Is the One Good Thing

You know the Commandments of God, and you know what they mean:  Do not murder, nor hate, nor harbor anger in your heart against your neighbor.  Do not commit adultery, nor lust with your eyes and your imagination, but cherish and care for your own spouse.  Do not steal, but help to guard and protect your neighbor’s property.  Do not give false testimony, but speak up in defense of your neighbor, in defense of what is good and right and true.  Do not covet, defraud, entice, or scheme to get what is not yours, but be content with what you have.  Honor your father and your mother, serve and obey them, and submit to the authorities whom God has placed over you.

You know what God commands, what He forbids, and what He requires of you.  And you know what He says concerning your life and salvation in Christ Jesus, for in His mercy He has taught you by His Word.  He has given you parents and pastors to instruct you in the Catechism, which is a simple summary of the Holy Scriptures.  You know who God is, and you know what He has said and done from the creation of the world to this day.  You know how to pray, how to examine yourself and confess your sins, and how to worship the Lord your God by faith in His Gospel.

Live, therefore, according to the Word that He has spoken.  Do what He commands, and flee what He forbids.  Exercise yourself in doing what is good, and refrain from doing evil.  Help in all the ways that you are able, as God provides opportunity, and do no hurt nor harm to your neighbor.

That is how you are to live, as God Himself has taught you by His Son.  Only not as though to save yourself or to get life for yourself by your good works.  You are not called to live and work for your own self-advancement, but for the glory of God and the good of your neighbor.

Do good, and not evil, because of God’s command and your neighbor’s need; simply because it is good and right so to do, and this is how you are to live.  Not to gain life for yourself, but to live the life that you are given by the grace of God.

Keep the Commandments in the fear and faith of God.  Knowing and trusting that all things come from Him and depend on Him, and that you live all your days in His presence, do what He says, delight to please Him as your number one criteria, and be more afraid of disobeying Him than you  are of disappointing the people you work so hard to impress.

From a heart of faith, do not merely go through the outward motions of keeping your nose clean and doing your job, although at least that much is your basic duty and responsibility in any case.  But to live as God has created you and called you to live, go about all your days and your deeds actively trusting in Him, loving Him above all else, and loving your neighbor on account of God’s Word, even at the cost of your whole body and life in this world.  Value God more than your life.

More to the point, find your life and fix your hope for this life and the next in Christ Jesus, even as He goes the way of the Cross.  Do not be frightened or despair in the face of death, but trust that Christ will raise you up, as God the Father raises Him from death and the grave to life everlasting.

Follow Christ Jesus on His Way of the Cross, and learn from Him how to live, for He is your Good Teacher.  He alone is good, holy, and righteous, for He is God in the flesh, the Image of God in Man.  And He alone is your Savior, the Author and Giver of Life by His Word and Holy Spirit, by the paradoxical ways and means of His Cross and Resurrection.

Consider how this dear Lord Jesus Christ has lived, and how He has gone to His death in the faith and confidence of His Father, and in steadfast love for God and man.  It is in Him, in His Body and Life, in His Holy Cross and Passion, that the Law is perfected and fulfilled in the perfect faith and holy love that are at the heart of all the Commandments.

Christ Jesus is the “fear, love, and trust in God” in the flesh.  He has not clung to His possessions, nor to His equality with God.  He has not sought to make and establish a life for Himself.  But in the keeping and fulfilling of His Father’s good and acceptable will, He has liquidated everything and worked and suffered for the salvation of the world, for the benefit of poor, miserable sinners.

He has spent His riches and made Himself poor, not with parties and debauchery, but in order to make you wealthy with His righteousness, to give you His divine, eternal life in the Kingdom of His God and Father.  For this purpose, for the sake of your salvation, He took up the Cross and willingly laid down His life.  He shed His blood to ransom you from death and the devil, to atone for all your sins and failures, and to set you free forevermore.  All of this in the confidence that His Father would receive and accept His Sacrifice in peace and vindicate Him in His righteousness.

Now, then, as He is your Good Teacher, your Catechist, and your Pastor, listen to Him, and learn from Him.  Hear and heed His Word to you.  Forsake all else, and follow Him by faith.

He calls you to let go of all the stuff that you rely upon, including your own self-righteousness.  Not because He would deprive you of life and comfort and happiness, but that you would actually receive life, and be comforted, and find true joy and happiness in the Lord your God by faith in His Word, in His Cross and Resurrection, in His free and full forgiveness of your sins.  For you will not live otherwise.  All the stuff in the world will not save you.  There is life in no one but Christ.

Do not give up and go away sad.  Do not despair of any hope or help or happiness, which are here for you in Christ Jesus; not because you are so good, but He is.

Do not harden your heart against Him in unbelief and wickedness, as those who perished in the wilderness did when they rejected the Word of the Lord.  They, too, were baptized in the water with His Word when He brought them through the Red Sea out of Egypt; and they, too, were fed with spiritual food and drink, with bread from heaven and water from the Rock.  And, yet, with most of them God was not pleased, and they died in the desert, because they did not fear, love, and trust in Him.  Heed that warning, and repent of your own sins, lest you also perish in unbelief.

Do not grow complacent or drift away from the Word of the Lord that you have been taught and which you have confessed with your lips.  Continue to hear and receive it, as He speaks to you.  Cling to it in your heart, and exercise it in your own speaking and living.  Do not entertain the lie that it doesn’t matter, nor throw up your hands in resignation as though it were too hard for you.

Truth be told, it is flat out impossible for you.  You could not believe the Word of God by your own reason, wisdom, or strength; far less could you even begin to keep it by any of your powers.

But Christ alone is good.  There is life in no one else but Him.  So, listen up, and learn from Him.

In love for you, He has called you to Himself, to live with Him in His Kingdom forever and ever, in His own righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  This is the good and gracious will of God for you and your salvation.  And Christ Himself has brought it about by His good works of love.

It is by His mercy and His grace alone, by His Word and Holy Spirit, that you have not been cast away from His presence — you are not sent away — nor are you lost and forsaken.  But you are here because this one Lord, Jesus Christ, has sought you out and found you in love, and He has taught you His Word: Not only His Commandments, which show you how you are to live, but also the charity and forgiveness of His Gospel, by which you have life in Him and live by His Spirit.

He has brought you to repentance, and turned your heart away from sin and false belief, away from your false gods, away from trust in yourself and your possessions, to fear, love, and trust in Him.

Yes, He has put you to death to yourself, but He has made you alive to God, now and forever, in Himself.  He has stripped you of everything with which you have tried to cover yourself, to hide and protect yourself, but He has not left you naked and ashamed.  He has clothed you with His own glorious righteousness and holiness, so that you are now adorned like no rich man on earth ever.

He has brought you here to His Church, to the waters of His Holy Baptism, to the preaching and teaching of His Word, to His Holy Absolution, and to His own Holy Body and precious Blood, the fruits of His Cross, given and poured out for you.  Here is the inheritance of eternal life for you.

Along with all of these most precious and priceless Gifts, I want you to bear in mind that He has also given you to each other — as He has given His Church to you, and you to His Church — to guard and keep each other by His Word.  To encourage and support each other by His Word.  To pray and intercede for each other, but also to seek each other out, to speak the Law and Gospel to each other, and to remind each other of these good things.  Your own catechesis continues in the life of the Church, and so do you catechize your brothers and sisters in Christ by confessing His Word.  So, too, use whatever other means the Lord has placed into your hands to love and serve and care for one another in His Name.  For so does Christ Jesus love and serve and care for you.

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

04 October 2015

The Marriage and Family of God

You cannot know what it is or what it means to be a man, woman, or child, not really, except in  relation to Christ Jesus and His Church.  Likewise, you cannot comprehend the significance of marriage and family, except by way of Christ and His holy Bride.  For man is made in the Image of God — which is to say, in Christ Jesus — and marriage and family belong to that divine Image.

From the beginning of creation, when He made all things out of nothing by His Word, the Holy Triune God created man, male and female, to live in communion with Himself — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and so also to live in loving communion with one another as members of one Body in Christ Jesus.  That is the point and purpose and significance of holy marriage.  And that is the higher purpose and ultimate reality to which even marriage and family are subordinate.

Unless the Lord builds the house, they all labor in vain, whoever attempt to build their own.

But there is a larger household and family to which the Bride of Christ and all the sons of God in Christ belong.  And He has built it for you here and now for eternal life with God hereafter.

The intimacy of the male and female within the lifelong union of husband and wife is a living icon, a bodily confession, and a God-given testimony to the divine, eternal unity of the Holy Triune God, and to the loving intimacy and holy communion of Christ Jesus with His own Bride, the Church.

Consequently, fornication on the one hand (including any and all kinds of sexual intimacy outside of holy marriage), and divorce on the other hand (that is, the breaking of the marriage bond), and all other forms of adultery are false confessions of a false Christ.  These all contradict the Gospel.

Within holy marriage, whatever children God may give to a husband and wife demonstrate the fruitfulness of Christ’s Church in conceiving, bearing, giving birth to, and nurturing the children of God.  And the children who are born to Christian parents and brought to Christ in His Church (through Holy Baptism and the catechesis of His Word) belong precisely to that fruitfulness.

By the same token, to avoid or reject children is to reject the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus.

But do not misunderstand the point.  I do not speak of any sort of competition or supposed merit in attempting to maximize the number of children that you or anyone else may have.  It is rather a case of faith and love, by which you look to God for all good things, trust in Him in every situation, and receive from His hand whatever He may give you.  So shall you also live graciously and generously toward your neighbors, beginning with your own family and household.

Christian families are called to live in this way, by faith and love, because it is in this way that God the Father gives life to the household and family of His Church.  It is the way that Christ Jesus lives for His Bride and gives His own life to and for the children of God.

Husbands are thus called to sacrifice themselves in order to give life to their wives.  And wives are called to trust the Lord Jesus Christ in their husbands, to receive life from Him through them, and so to bear in faith and love the children that God the Father gives within their marriage.

And fathers and mothers together are called and commanded to bring their children to Christ in His Church, and to God the Father in His Son, understanding that children are created and born for life with God, both now and forever.  Withholding them from Christ and His Church, so as to make a life for them in this world instead, would be a grave offense and a serious stumbling block.

So is it also the case, when it comes to your children — as they grow up and leave your home and family to establish households of their own — that you are reminded of what is true for them and you and every one of us: Here on earth we have no permanent home, but we are strangers and aliens, sojourners in a foreign land, on our way to our eternal dwelling in the city of God.

It is a painful and difficult fact that our children do not remain with us forever in this world.  And even the sacred institution of holy marriage is not eternal, but only as permanent as our temporal life on earth.  In heaven you shall neither be married nor given in marriage, but, like the holy angels, your whole delight shall forever be in the one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Truth be told, there is finally and forever one God and Father, one heavenly Bridegroom, and one holy Bride, adorned and radiant with the one Holy Spirit and the divine, eternal Righteousness of Christ our Savior.  But so do there remain many sons and daughters of God, many brothers and sisters of our one Lord, Jesus Christ.  And so it is that marriage and family and every other human relationship are called and taken up into the unity of the Spirit and the bond of Peace in the holy communion of one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.

Already here and now, that divine and holy fellowship is a present reality within the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.  That is the case, although we cannot see the perfect unity of the Church except by faith in Christ, our Husband and Head.  We do not yet experience the loving unity of the household and family of God, because we do not care for one another as we should.

All manner of things intrude upon the Church and interfere with her unity in Christ Jesus.  Envy and jealousy and a spirit of competition, even among His disciples.  Hardness of heart, even among the people of God.  Sin and death.  Frailty and failures.  The burdens and obligations of mortal life in a fallen world.  And all the particular irritations and hardships of each particular situation.

Give thanks to God, and Christ be praised, that marriage and family, husbands and wives, parents and children, all point beyond themselves to something more — to something even more blessed, to something divine, eternal, and holy.

For that reason, and for the sake of His Church on earth, God has not called everyone to be a spouse or a parent.  He establishes other vocations and stations in life, which serve His household here and now, while also pointing beyond themselves in their own way to His heavenly Kingdom.

Perhaps it is to such a vocation that God has called you, or to which He will call you.  Discerning your place in life is largely a matter of listening to your parents and the other authorities whom God has placed over you.  If you are a child or a young person, talk to your father and mother, and to your pastors and teachers concerning the path that you should pursue.  Even if you are an adult, do not despise or disregard the counsel and guidance of your parents, but talk to them and listen to them, as well as to your pastors and teachers, your peers and colleagues.  All of this belongs to living in the Kingdom of God like a little child, that is, by faith in the Word that He speaks to you.

If you are not married or given in marriage, be patient and proceed in faith, but also consider and discuss whether you may be given the vocation of celibacy.  That is to say, perhaps you are given to live the heavenly life already here on earth, devoted to the service of Christ and His Church, and devoted to serving your neighbors in the world, in purity and chastity, faithfulness and love.

Likewise, if you have been widowed, perhaps there is then an opportunity for you to serve the household and family of God in ways that you would otherwise not have been able to do.

In these circumstances, whether as unmarried or widowed, you are able to live unto your heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, in the service and support of His Bride, the Church — whether you are male or female, young or old, rich or poor.  You thereby anticipate the consummation of all things in the Resurrection of the faithful departed to the life everlasting.

Similarly, if the Lord has not granted you the blessing of your own children, or if your children are already grown and out of your home, you have the opportunity to receive and care for the children of God within the household and family of His Church.

Especially by those Christians who are unencumbered by the responsibilities of their own marriage and family, the Church is able to care for orphans and widows in their distress, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; and to visit the sick and imprisoned, the lonely and forsaken.

Whether married or unmarried, and with or without children, you are called in any case to live by faith toward God and in love for your neighbor.  You are called to live as belonging to the Bride of Christ, and as a child of the heavenly Father, whether within or without a family on earth.

You are called to repent of your sins, and to live by faith in the forgiveness of Christ Jesus.

So then, if you have been lazy or unfaithful in your marriage; if you have neglected or dealt harshly with your spouse; if you have committed adultery or gotten divorced, repent of your sins, and be joined to Christ the Lord, who cleaves to you in love and does not cast you off or send you away.

And if you have refused to receive the little children in His Name and for His sake — even if you have put them to death by abortion — or if you have failed to provide and care for the children God has given you, repent of your sins and return to the waters of your Baptism.  Be drowned and die in the depths of that great sea, and be born again as a little child of God.

Have you heard again this morning how the dear Lord Jesus takes the children in His arms and blesses them?  So He does for you, as well.  His hands are stretched out to you here at His Altar, in love, in order to receive you to Himself like a little child.  It does not matter how old you are, how big or small you are, how smart you are, whether you are a boy or a girl, a man or a woman.

The Kingdom of God belongs to such as you, because it belongs to Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son, who gives Himself entirely for you.

He has cleansed and sanctified you by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  He has thereby clothed you with His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness, without any spot or wrinkle or blemish or flaw.  Beautiful, that is what you are.  And you are His, and He is yours forever.  He has given you His Name, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.  His God and Father is now your own God and Father in Him.

Do not shy away from this, that you are now one flesh with Him: bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh, blood of His blood, and a member of His own Body and Bride.  For God the Father has caused Him to sleep the sleep of death upon the Cross, and from His wounded side, by the water and the blood, the Lord your God has recreated you to be His companion.  The Father walks you down the aisle in this new Garden of Eden, this Paradise on earth, and He gives you to this Groom, the most handsome of men, to be His very own.

Dearly beloved, here He receives you to Himself, to have and to hold unto eternal life.  With His own wounded hands, and by the bloody sweat of His brow, He has built you a house that shall remain.  His labor has not been in vain, but He shelters you with His good work and His perfect righteousness.  Whatever hardness of heart you have harbored, He has opened to you and given to you His own beating heart of flesh and blood.  In this there is the love of God the Father, which is from the beginning to the end, even from everlasting to everlasting.

Even death shall have no power to separate you from Him, nor He from you; for He has tasted death for you and for all the children of men, and He has been vindicated, raised from the dead, and exalted high above the highest heavens, to the right hand of God the Father, forever and ever.

It is true that, in the Resurrection, you shall be like the angels in heaven, neither married nor given in marriage, but wholly devoted to Christ.  Even so, in His flesh and blood you are crowned with glory and honor exceeding that of all the holy angels.  For He is not the Savior and Bridegroom of angels, but He is your Savior, and He is your Bridegroom, here in time and hereafter in eternity.

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