30 November 2015

The Word of Faith That Is Preached to You

In the beginning was the Word, by whom and for whom all things exist, and without whom there is nothing.  He alone is your Light, your Life and your Salvation.

This same divine and living Word has become flesh and dwells with you in love.

He has become flesh to bear your sins in His own Body to the Cross, and to shed His holy, precious Blood for you, in order to atone for all your sins and to redeem you, to justify you with His righteousness and reconcile you to God the Father, to sanctify you with His own Holy Spirit, and to share with you His own divine, eternal life.

He is the true Passover Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world — who takes upon Himself and takes away your sin — who covers you with His Blood and feeds you with His flesh.

In order that you may behold Him, and recognize Him, and receive Him as the Christ, your Savior and your God, the Lord has sent the Forerunner to preach repentance, in order to make a disciple of you by baptizing and catechizing you.

Apart from this Word and Sacrament (the Ministry of repentance for the forgiveness of sins) you cannot even see the Lord Jesus.  Far less could you come to Him, believe in Him, or follow Him.

It is by the Word and Spirit of Christ, by the preaching of Christ Jesus, that you are pointed to Him and brought to Him in faith.  Whereas, without His Word, you remain utterly in the dark, subject to death and damnation.  Thus, not only all of creation, but everything pertaining to faith and life and godliness depends upon the preaching of the Word of Christ.  Otherwise, you have nothing.

It is for your sake, for your life and salvation, that the one true God has opened His mouth in love and spoken His Word to you, and thereby breathed His living and Life-giving Spirit into your body and soul.  And with this divine and holy preaching of God Himself, He has established for you, and for His whole Christian Church on earth, a most sacred tradition of the Word, that is, a handing over of the Son of God from heaven to earth, from then till now, from God the Father unto you.

The Father speaks forth His Son to make the heavens and the earth, and to create man in His Image.  The Father speaks forth the same only-begotten Son in the flesh, to bear your sin and be your Savior.  And as the Father has thus spoken, so does the Son speak His Word to you, which is Spirit and Life.  He speaks to you by the ministers of His Word, called and sent in His Name.

And by that Word that is preached to you, far more than simple information is conveyed.  Indeed, the very Lamb of God is manifested to you, and you are called to repentance, to faith and life in Him, through His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

That is what this Word does: It forgives you.  And by this Holy Absolution, this Word of forgive-ness, you know the one true God as your own dear Father; you live and abide with Him in peace.

This God and Father still speaks His Son to you.  He sends His man, John, to go before His face to prepare His way — to prepare you for His Advent (His coming) — and to point Him out to you: the Lamb of God, who saves you.  And He sends His servants, Andrew and Simon Peter, His James and John and Paul, His Richard and David and others, to preach the one Lord Jesus Christ to you — to bring you to Christ Jesus in faith, and to bring you to Himself in Christ.

Now, then, what is it that you seek?  Is it not life, and a place to live, a place to call home?

That life and home are in Christ; and Christ is here for you in His Word of the Gospel: He is so very near to you, in your ears, in your heart, and even in your mouth.  First of all as He speaks His forgiveness of your sins, and bestows His peace upon you, and feeds you in body and soul with His holy body and precious blood.  And as He thus gives you life, by grace through faith in Him, so does He open your lips to declare His praise, and He opens your mouth to confess His Name.

You, then, carry on this sacred tradition of the Word: Speak as you are spoken to.  As you have heard, so also believe, and call upon the Name of the Lord.  Pray and confess His Word.  Speak Christ Jesus to your neighbors, beginning first of all with your own family, your spouse, your parents and your children, your brothers and sisters.  And speak to the members of your true and permanent family, that is, to your brothers and sisters in Christ — as Brother Andrew spoke to Brother Simon.  For you belong to them, and they belong to you, as fellow members of one Body in Christ, His holy Church.  For His sake, speak in holy love and with free and full forgiveness.

Do you find yourself speaking otherwise, and not with such grace and evangelical eloquence?

Hear and heed the Word of Christ to you: Repent of your sins and follow Him.  Come, hear and see where He lives, and how He lives.  Receive His hospitality and abide with Him.  For He is your Teacher, and He catechizes you for life.  He has died for you and shed His blood for you, but see, He has also risen from the dead and lives for you, as well.  The very blood that He has shed for you now anoints you with His Holy Spirit and fills you with His righteousness and peace.

Taste and see that He is good — in Him is Life, and that Life is your Light and your Salvation.  Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away your sins.  You are forgiven.  You are His very own.

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

29 November 2015

The Lord of the Donkeys

Although you are a sheep of the Good Shepherd, and you abide by His grace in His green pastures, on this day He would have you see yourself in that donkey, in that colt, the foal of a donkey.

Without any rider, you might appear to be free.  But you are not.  You are tied up and owned by other lords.  Unused and useless.  Unclothed, unbridled, unneeded.  But not free, and not safe.

And then Christ Jesus sends His disciples to release you from your bonds and set you free, to clothe you with the garments of a disciple, and to set Christ Himself upon you.  Not that He would burden you, but that He would be your gracious Lord and King.

In fact, for you and your salvation the Lord Jesus Christ has Himself become a donkey, as it were, a beast of burden.  For He carries all your guilt and sin and shame in His own body to the Cross, and He carries you also on His back through death into life.

In His descending, you are raised up.  He goes up to Jerusalem, yes, because He is offered up to the Father as the sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the world.  But He thus comes down from the Mount of Olives, anointed by the Holy Spirit for the sake of mercy, in order to give you life.

The Law accuses and condemns you, and would rebuke your worship of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But He has come to establish righteousness for you, to save you by His grace, and to grant you safety, peace, and rest in the midst of His Jerusalem.  He receives your praise, as He receives you.

He does not condemn you, nor cast you away from His presence, but has called you to Himself.  He does not rebuke or reject you, but calls you to rejoice in His salvation and His righteousness.

For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.  And as there is now peace in heaven, in the heart of God the Father toward sinners, so is there now peace on earth in the preaching of the  Gospel, in the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of the Lord Jesus.

Now He calls you to be reconciled to Him.  For He would convert your stony, idolatrous heart into a heart of flesh — to love and trust in Him, your God in the flesh.  Rest yourself in His Peace, and so be at peace with Him.  And in such peace, love and serve your neighbor in his body and life.

Such love and peace in your body and life — in your daily words and actions, in your dealings with the sinners and brothers and sisters and fellow disciples all around you — such love and peace are all that is lacking in your faith as a disciple, as St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians.

To be sure, even in your weakness, in your frailty and falling short, your faith lays hold of Christ Jesus and His Righteousness, in which there is no lack but perfect life and light and love, both now and forever.  All of that is fully yours by His grace in the Gospel.  So, again, be at peace with Him, as He is indeed at peace with you.  And so do I also rejoice and give thanks for your faith and life.

But in your flesh, in your heart, mind, and spirit, in what you say and what you do, it remains the case that your faith in Christ has not fully turned in love toward God and toward your neighbor.

Repent, therefore.  Do not remain tied up and still attached to your old lords and masters, but live now in the freedom of Christ, that you may increase and abound in love for one another.  Do not avoid your brothers and sisters, but seek them out in mercy.  Do not wait for them to ask for your help, but look for ways to love and serve them, as Christ has come to help you when you did not know Him.  Do not speak ill of your neighbor, nor cause him any hurt in his body, his family, his home, or his honor, but let all your words be gracious and all your actions graceful toward him.

Love freely, in faith, and not as though you were under a whip or goaded by a prod.  Have no fear of punishment.  You shall not die, but live.  Rather, rejoice in the King who comes to you, who reigns over you in love from His Cross, and so also bear His Cross in love for your neighbor.

As Jesus Christ has become your gracious Lord and King, as He has borne all your burdens in His body, and as He has set you free from sin and death, so now bear Him in your body and life.

Be the colt that carries Him.  Be and live as a Christian.  Let your tongue and mouth be bridled; let your hands and feet be guided; and let your flesh be disciplined by this one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Let Him be the Lord who rides you through death and the grave into the life everlasting.

Let your outer garments be trampled under His feet on His way of the Cross, so that you may be clothed with new vestments, with His righteousness and purity, and with the holiness of His Love.

Has He not named you with His Name — the Name of the Lord your God — in Holy Baptism?

Has He not signed you — also in your body and your flesh, upon your forehead and your breast — with the sign of His Holy Cross?

And yet, it is not you, the servant, the donkey, but Him, the Christ, the Lord your God, who first of all bears the burden of the Cross and releases you from the bondage of your sin and death.

If you now bear the Christ and His Cross, it is only because He has already borne you and yours.

So it is that you are born again to a new and living hope.  No longer the foal of a donkey, you are a son of God, a daughter of Jerusalem.  You dwell in safety, and you shall be saved, because Christ the Lord has made righteousness and peace for you.  That is your freedom, and that is your faith.

For, behold, there is yet another donkey here at hand, who bears your King to you, who comes in the Name of the Lord, having salvation for you.

As He has sent His disciples to make a disciple of you — to forgive you in His Name; to baptize you and catechize you in love; to fill up whatever is lacking in you with Jesus — so does He also send His disciples before His face, to prepare this upper room of His Church, this House of the Lord, for the true Passover Feast of His Body and His Blood.

The Lord has need of bread and wine.  These are the colt that He now rides upon, that by these earthly means He should enter His Jerusalem in mercy, wherein He gives His Body for you, and pours out His holy, precious Blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Here He has need of you, as well.  Not that you should serve Him, as though He needed your help, but that He would serve you with all the authority of His Atoning Sacrifice and with all the power of His indestructible Life.  For He would be your one true King of righteousness and peace.  He comes, not to enslave you, but that you should live with Him in His Kingdom.

He is a greater and more faithful King than even David, a better and far wiser Son than Solomon.  He is Himself your righteousness and holiness.  He is Himself your safety, peace, and rest.

That is why we shout aloud, and cry out, and greatly rejoice.  That is why we sing of peace on earth as it is in heaven.  For “blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”  From the House of the Lord we bless His Holy Name and worship Him with thanks and praise.  Hosanna in the highest!

And happy are you, who know this festal shout on earth here and now, and in heaven hereafter.

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

25 November 2015

The Thanksgiving of Christ Our Savior

The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land through Jesus Christ, the beloved Son.

In order to do so, He has first of all come to find you and has met you in a foreign land, on the outskirts, where you have been cut off and separated from Him and from your neighbors.

Because you are sinful and unclean, you have been subject to death and to every sickness and sorrow of heart and mind, body and soul.  You cannot cleanse or heal yourself, nor can you feed and clothe and shelter yourself.  You cannot raise yourself from death to life.  But you must wait upon the Lord, and listen for His voice, and meet Him where and when He comes to you.

Watch and wait, therefore, in the faith and confidence that He has come near to you, here and now, with tender compassion for you, with grace, mercy, and peace, and with all that you need.

The dear Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, has come to provide you with all good things and, above all, to raise you up and bring you, in and with Himself, into the good land He has promised, a place of perfect peace and rest, the home where righteousness dwells.  He brings you in His own Body to the heavenly and holy city, New Jerusalem, and into the Temple made without hands, eternal in the heavens — into the very Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Holy Triune God.

He brings you into that good land through the wilderness of sin and death.  And you survive that difficult and dangerous journey, in spite of your frailty and weakness, and even though it is very hard, because He daily and richly provides you with clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, or with tent and shelter of some kind, with family and friends and whatever else is necessary — not only for this poor life of labor, but for your body and soul unto the life everlasting.

This present wilderness is not pointless in the meantime.  It is a pilgrimage of repentance, of faith and forgiveness, whereby you learn to recognize both your own mortality and the Lord’s mercy.  You learn to confess your sin, your sickness and sorrow, but also His salvation.  You learn to call upon His Name in every trouble — by prayer and supplication with praise and thanksgiving — to ask Him and thank Him because He is good and His mercy endures forever.

He brings you through this wilderness, through this vale of tears and death, and He catechizes you in this way of repentance, faith and life, prayer and thanksgiving, all by the way of His Cross — in His own Body of blood and flesh like yours — as your merciful and great High Priest.

Consider that.  The almighty and eternal Son of God has come down from heaven to find you in the wilderness, and to lead you through all harm and danger, even through death and the grave, through the baptismal waters of the Jordan, into the good land flowing with milk and honey.

For He is the very Word that proceeds from the mouth of God the Father, who has become flesh so that you may live.  He has given Himself for you and for all, and even now He gives Himself to you as the true Manna from heaven — the living and Life-giving Bread which neither you nor your fathers could have known or baked up, but God the Father has opened His hand to give you.

But He is more than even all that.

He is more than you could ever have asked or imagined.  He is more than a new and better Moses, and more than a new and better Joshua.  He is more than your Prophet, Priest, and King, and more than the Food and Drink which now sustain you on the way.

He is the Sacrifice of Atonement for all your sins.  His Blood has made peace and reconciled you to God the Father.  Not only that, but His Blood and the water from His side are for your cleansing and refreshment, for the healing of all your diseases and the quenching of your deepest thirst.

And in His Body of flesh and blood, He is also the Sacrifice of Thanksgiving with which you enter the presence of God, a fragrant offering, acceptable and pleasing.

Take this to heart, and rejoice!  Not only does God give Himself to you in Christ Jesus, but He also brings you to Himself in thanksgiving through the same Lord Jesus Christ.  For His own Body is the Temple of God, wherein you approach and draw near, and wherein you live and abide in the glorious divine presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, both now and forever.

Everything is summed up and centered in the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord.  For He is your God, who is with you and for you in the flesh, and He is the sweet-smelling sacrifice and the incense of your faith and prayer, by which you rise and live unto God.  You pray to the Father in His Name, and through Him you offer thanks and praise — whereas apart from Him even your thanksgiving would fall short and be unacceptable on account of your sin.

You have no access to God apart from Christ Jesus; you would remain cut off and far removed.  But now all the fullness of God dwells with you bodily in the flesh and blood of this incarnate Son.

All of creation is redeemed and sanctified, cleansed and healed and perfected in Him, in His Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection.  Indeed, all things are made brand new in His Body and by His Blood, the very Feast which is given and poured out for you, here and now, to eat and drink for the forgiveness of all your sins, for life and salvation with God in Christ.

Now, then, with your body, and so too with your heart and mind, soul and spirit, give glory to God, worship Him, and give Him thanks and praise, by receiving this heavenly Manna and spiritual Drink at His Word.  Open your hand to receive what God here opens His hand to give.  Open your mouth and be fed.  And when you have eaten and are satisfied, open your mouth to bless the Lord and praise His Name by confessing the good Word that He has spoken to you.

As everything is a gift of God’s grace to you in Christ Jesus, there is nothing for you to do for Him or give to Him but to return thanks.  And your thanksgiving is joined to the flesh and blood of Christ, also by His grace, through faith in His Gospel–Word and Sacrament.

Your whole life, in fact, is offered as a living sacrifice of thanksgiving to God — that you might praise Him with your body and your whole being — by loving your neighbor, as the Lord your God loves you in Christ.  Therefore, that which you hear and receive from Him, put into practice by speaking and giving to your neighbor in His Name.  Feed and clothe, shelter and protect your neighbor, for the Lord your God daily and richly does these things for you.

Live by faith in His Word, and walk according to His commandments, because He is bringing you into the good land that He has promised to you.  To live in such a way, according to His Word — in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another — in Christ Jesus — is already to begin living the heavenly life on earth.

It is to live the life of God Himself, as He has lived for you, in the flesh, on earth as it is in heaven.

And in that same Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, in His Body of flesh and blood — in His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension — you have already passed out of the wilderness through death and the grave into the life everlasting, by way of your Holy Baptism in His Name.

That is how safe you are, and how safe and secure your body and your life are — hidden with Christ in God.  And that is how sure and certain your salvation is, now and forevermore.

See here, how He so graciously and so generously opens up His hand to feed you with Himself and to satisfy you in body and soul with all that you need.  For He forgives you with His holy and precious Blood, He feeds you with His own Body, and He renews your life by His good Spirit.

All glory, honor, worship, praise, and thanksgiving to Him who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

08 November 2015

Caring for Widows in the Lord's House

It seems natural enough to admire what that poor widow does.  She appears to be acting in faith, trusting God and giving all that she has to His Church.  To be sure, Jesus does not condemn or criticize her actions.  By the same token, though, He does not praise them, either.  The fact is that we don’t know what was in her heart or in her mind.  We can’t know, but neither do we need to.

While the story of the Widow’s Mite is appealing and endearing, this Holy Gospel has more to do with what Jesus says about the Scribes than with that poor widow and her gift.  It is an example of what the Scribes have brought to pass with their agenda of works righteousness and outward appearances.  Everything has been turned on its head, inside-out and upside-down in the piety and religion of the Jews.  Not for all of them, to be sure, but in many ways for many of the people.

What Jesus does say about the Widow’s Mite anticipates what He will go on to say in the next chapter about the Temple — the very heart of the Jewish religion — and how He, Jesus, by His own self-sacrifice upon the Cross, will really shake things up and turn them on their head again!

For the time being, though, our Lord addresses the hypocrisy and self-righteousness of the Scribes.  Watch out for them, He warns, because their whole aim in life and in their piety has been to impress the crowds and attract attention to themselves.  The Scribes, it should be noted, were not the ministers of the church.  They were not the ordained priests who served in the Temple, nor were they teachers of the people like the Pharisees.  The Scribes were professional theologians and church lawyers, so to speak.  Or, we might say, they were the lay leaders and officers of the church, responsible for the rules and regulations of the church constitution and by-laws.

But it was not their position or profession that was problematic in the case of the Scribes.  It was their own sense of self-importance, and the way they put on airs.  They made a prideful show of their leadership, their attention to the details of the Law, and their outward appearance of superior spirituality.  In all of this, they were seeking the praise and adulation of the people.  In doing so, they also established a religious culture and climate and expectation of self-righteousness.

It was by an extension of these attitudes that the Scribes — or rather, to be fair, some of the Scribes — were guilty of devouring the houses of widows.  But such an accusation is more difficult to understand than it might sound.  Certainly, the Scribes would not have engaged in the outright seizing or stealing of property.  That would hardly have made them popular!  Some have suggested that a Scribe might become the legal trustee of a widow’s property, and in that capacity make decisions and investments or charitable contributions that would not be in her best interests.  In my opinion, however, it has far more to do with the very thing that Jesus here points out in the case of the one poor widow who gave her last penny into the Temple treasury.

In the Old Testament, over and over again, the Lord makes clear that His people are to care for the widows and orphans above all, especially because He, the Lord, is the Husband and the Father of His people, and they are to represent Him in their care and service for others.  Along the same lines, St. James writes that true religion which is pure and undefiled before God the Father is to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.  As such, it should have been a distinguishing mark and characteristic of Jewish piety to care and provide for widows.  Instead, the Scribes — by their words and actions, by their standards, expectations, and example — led poor widows to contribute their essential livelihood, even their very last cent, to the care and upkeep of the Temple.

Meanwhile, the wealthier members of the community were more than able to provide all that was really needed.  Indications are that the Temple treasury was abundantly filled and overflowing!

Now, to be clear, it is no indictment of the poor widow in this Holy Gospel that she entrusted all that she had to the Lord’s House.  It likely was an act of faith and trust in God, similar to that of the widow who provided for the Prophet Elijah.  Yet, we have here a striking contrast.  There is the poor widow who should have been receiving help and service from the people and Temple of God, who ends up giving everything she has to the Temple.  And then there are those Scribes who are most interested in receiving the attention, the admiration, and the accolades of the people.

Perhaps a more familiar example of the same sort of problem will help to clarify.  In the Sixteenth Century, the Reformation began as a response to the selling of indulgences in Germany.  Under papal authority, the forgiveness of sins was ostensibly for sale, or so it was thought.  To purchase an indulgence was considered a good work and meritorious, because the proceeds were being used for the beautiful new St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.  Consequently, Dr. Luther criticized not only the whole theological poverty behind the notion and abuse of indulgences, but also the way the poor people of Germany were being pressed into the financial support of a building for the wealthy people of Rome, Italy.  Instead of being served, they were being pressured into sacrifice.

In our own day and age, it has been common enough to become a cliché, the way that so-called televangelists have preyed upon “poor widows” and persuaded them to contribute their life savings in support of some “ministry,” perhaps real or pretend.  And you could probably think of other examples of the many ways that pious, well-meaning, faithful people are led to contribute, even beyond their ability and means, to various religious and charitable causes.  Typically, there is an unspoken premise that, by giving to this or that cause, one avoids or assuages feelings of guilt for not doing something to help.  Instead of guilt, there is supposed to be some kind of spirituality.

But let’s not dwell on the sins of others.  For we fall into the same sort of trap, ourselves, when we become focused on the preservation of our church building for its own sake, for example, or when we focus on our congregation as a human institution, as a social fellowship of like-minded people, instead of fixing our entire faith and focus solely on the Lord Jesus Christ and on His Word and Ministry of the Gospel.  Sadly, it’s far too easy for us poor sinners to be distracted and misled.

How often don’t we get worked up and focused on what we’re doing and what we ought to do; on what we’re giving and what we need to give; on what we have accomplished, or what we’re going to accomplish?  Or, conversely, we get wrapped up in our failures of the past and in our fears for the future.  And then it’s all about “our” church, “our” congregation, “our” programs and problems, and “our” building.  But that kind of superficiality — that religion of outward appearances and human structures — is the same self-righteousness that Jesus criticized in the Scribes, which led to a situation in which a poor widow would give up everything she had to support the Temple.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  The Temple and its sacrificial Liturgy were the very means of grace, established by God Himself, whereby He served and provided for His people with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  But that, precisely, was the key.  It was the Lord’s means of grace, and His Divine Service, whereby He provided for His people.  It was not something the people did for God, much less for themselves.  Their necessary financial support of the Temple ought to have been understood and offered as a sacrifice of faith and of thanksgiving, in grateful appreciation for and in confident support of that which God by His grace continued to do and supply for them.  And the focus, by all means, needed to remain on the Word and Sacrifices of God, not on the outward beauty and adornment of the Temple buildings, and not on the gifts and sacrifices of the people.

The same thing is true for us in our day, in our own circumstances.  You do have an obligation and responsibility to support the Church on earth with your time and talents, and yes, also with your treasures, in proportion to the measure with which God has blessed you.  And your congregation does need your support, including your financial support, if it is to continue as a part of the Lord’s Church on earth.  So, do give what you are able.  But not for the sake of preserving this building in this place, nor even for the sake of preserving Emmaus Congregation as such.  Give what you can for the sake of the Gospel–Word and Sacraments; for the sake of the Ministry of the Gospel in this place; for the sake of what God is here doing in Christ Jesus for you and for your neighbor.  Give what you can, not to purchase some advantage, but as a sacrifice of faith and thanksgiving.

Guard yourself against the strong temptation to focus on the human structures and their outward appearances.  And don’t kid yourself that you can easily tell the difference and keep things sorted out.  Even the disciples of Jesus were caught up in the impressive beauty of the Temple buildings, as we shall hear next week.  Their eyes went from that poor widow giving everything she had to that beautiful Temple, and they were no doubt thinking how noble and how good and right it was that everyone should so give in support of that proud monument of the Jewish people and religion.

Just as we might easily stand back and admire our beautiful church building, inside and out, which certainly is, in many ways, a tribute to the piety and devotion of the people of God who have gone before us on the corner of Milton & Dale.  But we must also be given that sobering reminder which our Lord then spoke to His disciples, namely, that the Temple would be destroyed, and the entire city of Jerusalem along with it, not one stone left upon another.

And what then?  Would the destruction of the Lord’s House and of the Lord’s Holy City on earth be the end of His Church, as well?  Would that be the end of His Gospel and the worship of His Name?  The end of His forgiveness, life, and salvation?  The end of His people and their hope?

No!  A thousand times, No!  First of all because the Lord Himself and His Word remain forever.  But also because the Lord Himself — in His own Body of flesh and blood — by His sacrificial death upon the Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead — has become the new, divine, eternal Temple of the Living God, in heaven and on earth.  His Sacrifice has accomplished once-for-all the forgiveness of sins, so that no other sacrifice remains except for the sacrifice of faith and of thanksgiving in response to His gifts of life and salvation.

That Temple of His Body, and His gracious gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, are here for you — not because of this building, nor even because of the faithful members of Emmaus past and present — but because of the Lord and His faithfulness.  Because of His grace and mercy toward you and all His people.  Because of His Word and Holy Spirit.  Because of His preaching of the Gospel, His baptizing and absolving of poor, miserable sinners.  And because He here feeds you with His own holy Body, and He quenches your deepest thirst with His holy, precious Blood.

The Lord uses your gifts to provide for the place and the pastors and the people to make all of these things happen.  But do not ever suppose that the Lord is left depending upon you to support Him.  And do not ever suppose that His Gospel and His gifts are in any way contingent upon you and your sacrifices.  Rather, live by faith that He who created you and all things and still preserves them; who has suffered and died for you, so that you might live with Him in His Kingdom forever; who has caused His Word and Sacraments to be faithfully preached and administered for you and many others in this place — and all around the world, in all times and places, from the fall into sin until the final judgment — He will also, for the sake of His own love and faithfulness, continue to strengthen you and keep you steadfast in His Word and faith unto the life everlasting in Him.

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

01 November 2015

The Lord Jesus Christ Is the One

Most of you have known at least some of those dear Christians we name before the Lord’s Altar this morning, who have departed in the faith and confession of Christ.  And surely all of you have lost loved ones in the past, whether recently or long ago; whether from the womb or after many years of life together.  Parents and children, spouses and siblings, neighbors and friends.

Think about those people, those men and women, boys and girls, all of them sinful and mortal like yourself.  What was important to them?  What did they treasure?  How did they spend their time?  Where did they invest themselves?  With what did they depart this vale of tears, and with what did they enter eternity?  What did they take with them?  And what do they have now?

All that remains forever is Christ Jesus and His Word, His Spirit and His Father.  Apart from Him, there is only darkness, death, and damnation.  So, then, where shall your heart and life be found?  And how shall you live here and now, so that you may rise and live with the Lord forever?

To set aside for God a part or portion of your time would be idolatrous.  To dedicate or offer to the Lord a percentage of your possessions would be a sacrilege.  For how shall you call Him the Lord your God, to whom you would give only a portion of yourself?  And how shall you worship Him, if you presume to assign Him a place as one priority among so many others in your life?

It will not do to subdivide yourself, your time and energy, your heart, mind, soul, and strength.  No, you are to love and serve the Lord your God, and nothing else besides Him, with everything you are and have.  For there is one Lord, one God, not many.  There is one Author and Giver of Life.  Wherever else you would look for life, you will have nothing but death.  Not that God is merely a means by which you get life for yourself, but He alone is your Life and Light and Salvation.

To whatever else you would direct or dedicate your thoughts, words, and actions, if not the Holy Triune God, that is your idol, your false god and false religion.  Or to suppose at any point that you have “done your time” and “paid your dues,” is already to have failed and fallen far short of the glory of God.  For He would have all of you, that you would have your whole life entirely in Him.

Your offerings and your alms are inadequate and insufficient, no matter what the amount, and no matter what percentage of your income and your wealth, if you still withhold yourself from God and from your neighbor.  For you are to love the Lord your God with your entire being, and you are to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Which is not to say that you should love your neighbor in addition to God, nor alongside of God, for that would be to make another god out of your neighbor.  Rather, you are to love your neighbor under and within your love for God, that is, according to His Word and after the example of His own great heart of love.

It is for God’s sake that you thus love your neighbor in humility, in faith, in mercy, and in peace.  And that is how you are to live your whole life in the good land to which the Lord your God has called you, which He has promised to you in His Word, and which He gives to you in Christ Jesus.

Where you do not love the Lord God and your neighbor, there is alienation, enmity, separation, loneliness, and fear.  Not peace and rest, but anxiety and hard labor.  Not life, but death, now and forever.  That is the land laid waste by your lack of love for God and man.  That is the kingdom and the city of your own idolatrous self-love.  It is sprawling, unruly, divided, and running amok.

But over His good land the Lord your God has raised up and established a good King, who is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, with whom He has made an everlasting Covenant for your salvation.  Indeed, He is the royal High Priest who has redeemed you with His Life-Blood by His Cross, and He has reconciled you to God in His Resurrection from the dead, in order that you may in fact live with Him in His Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Who is this King of Glory, who does such great things for you?  He is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and He is both David’s Son and David’s Lord because He is the Word made Flesh, the incarnate Son of God, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Word and Spirit of the Father.

In the great Mystery of His Holy Incarnation, the Lord your God has thereby fulfilled the first and greatest commandment — and likewise the second — for you and for all people.  For the Son loves the Father — also now in His own human flesh and blood — with all His heart, with all His soul, with all His mind, and with all His strength.  And in such love for His Father, He has made Himself your Neighbor, even your Brother in the flesh, in order to love you with His own body and life.

Thus, the one true God, beside whom there is none other, has come beside you, and He has placed you beside Him, so that you might share His Life and abide with Him in His divine and holy Love.

He has held nothing back.  He has emptied Himself, poured Himself out, and given Himself to God, even unto death upon the Cross.  That is His Priesthood and His Sacrifice, which He offers to God on your behalf.  His Life is in His Blood, and He gives His Life entirely in love for God and in love for you.  For by the shedding of His Blood, He atones for all your sins, and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  He redeems you for Himself, forever and ever.  And He establishes the New Covenant between God and Man in His own flesh, with His own Blood.

His own Body is the new and greater Tabernacle, in which God abides with you and you abide with God.  For this Son of David, the King of Peace, replaces the old Tabernacle with the Temple of His crucified and risen Body.  And by His holy and precious Blood, you enter with Him into the Holy of Holies, which is to say, into the very presence of God.  You are brought to the Father in Him, in order to receive the eternal inheritance that belongs to the Son of God.  That is what He freely gives to you by grace in the Holy Communion, which is the New Covenant in His Blood.

Here there are no contingencies, nor is there anything lacking or amiss.  There is nothing “iffy” or uncertain about the Life that is here given by the one true God, who gives Himself to you.  For He has offered Himself as the perfect Sacrifice once for all.  And this same Lord Jesus has risen from the dead, and has ascended to the right hand of the Father where He lives and reigns forever.

Therefore, with His Gospel, which is the “sprinkling” of His Blood, He cleanses your conscience of all sin and shame and every stain.  As He was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification, so now He daily and richly forgives you, reconciles you to His God and Father, and sanctifies and purifies your body and soul with His Holy Spirit.  All of this by His Blood, with which He gives to you His Life.  He thereby raises you from death to divine life in Himself.

The Law commands you and requires you to love the Lord your God, but here the Lord your God loves you.  The Law tells you to cleanse your heart and draw near to God, but here, by His Gospel, the one true God draws near to you in Christ, in order to cleanse you by His grace and forgiveness.  He comes to free you from the devil’s kingdom, from the slavery and prison house of sin and death, and to bring you into the Kingdom of God.  The King Himself, the Christ, the Son of God, shares with you His faithfulness, His faith and holy love.  He fully gives to you His relationship with His God and Father, so that the true and only God is now your God and your Father in Him.

That is what the dear Lord Jesus Christ has done for those who have gone before us in the faith, whom we rightly remember with thanksgiving to God in Christ.  We do not worship them, but with them we worship God.  And loving Him above all things, we love them also for His sake.  For they belong to us in Him, and we belong to them.  They are not dead and gone, but alive forevermore.  Not by their own wisdom, reason, or strength — not by their own faithfulness and love — but by His grace, by His faith and faithfulness, and by His love for them; by His perfect obedience and the absolute sacrifice of His entire Body and Life; and by His Gospel in the Word and Sacraments.

So does He give Himself, His Life, and His Love to you.  This only-begotten Son of the Father, your merciful and great High Priest, the Prince of Peace, preaches and teaches the Word of God, which is the Word of Life, the Word of faith and love.  He does so for you and all His children, and for His children’s children from one generation to the next, even to the close of the age.

It is in the Temple that He preaches and teaches the Word to you, that is to say, within His Body, the holy Christian Church on earth as it is in heaven.  His Word is spoken to you from His Holy Altar, from which He also gives to you His Body and pours out for you the New Testament in His Blood.  For since the Word has become Flesh and tabernacles among us, the Word is never without His Flesh but He always brings you to His Father in His Body and with His Blood.  He gives you not a part or portion, but His whole self, perfect and complete.  He withholds nothing from you.

As there is one Bread and one Cup, one Spiritual Food and Drink — of one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all — so there is one Holy Communion in heaven and on earth, which is the one Body of Christ.  He is not divided, but the many are united and become one in Him, just as the many grains of wheat become one Bread, given for you, and the many grapes are united in one Cup of wine, poured out for you and for the many.  So it is that, in His one Body and Blood, all of the faithful of all times and all places live and abide in perfect peace forevermore.

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