17 January 2016

Pray and Confess the Word of Christ

You know that person who is really good at planning, preparing, and pulling off the big event?  Whether it be the perfect hostess who makes it look so easy and effortless, the wedding planner, or the backstage production manager.  You know the one I’m talking about.  Or maybe you are that person.  Not everyone has that kind of knack, but there are those talented few who just know how.  The rest of us muddle forward, accepting that we’re going to make mistakes, hoping that they’re not too devastating and that we’ll learn from them in any case.

Truth be told, even for the best of us, all the most careful plans and preparations can still fall short and go awry.  There’s too many people, too many variables, and the bottom line is that none of us is flawless or infallible.  It’s often hit or miss, so you hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

If that’s the case when it comes to planning a wedding — and you know it often is — it’s all the more so in the case of marriage itself.  Put two imperfect people together, and it would be silly to expect flawless perfection.  To maintain all the moving parts involved in everyday life, to keep all the plates spinning, and to pull it off week after week, year after year — it doesn’t happen easily; it doesn’t manage itself without effort; and it doesn’t unfold without its spilt milk and spent wine.

And that’s just to speak of weddings and marriage, to say nothing yet of all the other occupations and undertakings in this poor life of labor.  What else are you attempting?  To what do you aspire?  What sorts of plans and preparations are you pursuing?  And where is your wine running out?

You know, both from the Word of God and from your own experience, that life on earth and all of creation is under the curse of sin.  The consequence of death is present in your perishing flesh and everywhere you look, long before the funeral, really from the womb.  It’s not just the wine at the wedding reception, but everything is exhausted and spent, falling far short of expectations.

And yet, this finitude, this frailty of fallen flesh, this futility of mortal life under the curse of sin is not left without hope.  It rather calls you to a different perspective and a new set of priorities.  For the Creator remains and abides in love over all things.  He does not abandon the work of His own hands, but in mercy He upholds all that He has made, and He governs the heights and depths, the breadth and width of His entire creation for the benefit and blessing of His Christian Church.

Not only that, but He provides for you, as well, for each one of you, whose very hairs are numbered and accounted for in His holy wisdom.  Has He not created you and given you breath, a heart and mind, your body and soul, your reason and all your senses, in order to give you life with Himself?  And as the Father has not spared His only-begotten Son, but has given Him over to the Cross for your Atonement, and has raised Him from the dead for your justification, shall He not also, with Him, freely give you all that you need and raise you up at last, even from death, unto eternal life?

Here, then, you are catechized by the Son of God.  And, by faith in His Word, you recognize the Signs of His divine Glory in, with, and under His Cross.  He teaches you not to despair of His providence, nor to despise His good gifts of body and soul, which He gives to you generously by grace.  At the same time, He teaches you not to make idols of His creation but to fix your hope on Him alone, on His Word and promise, on His Cross and Resurrection, and on His means of grace.

Look to Him, therefore, the Word-made-Flesh by whom all things are made, without whom there is nothing but death and destruction.  Look to Him who is the Maker of the heavens and the earth, who is also your Maker and Redeemer and the Preserver of your life both now and forever.

In whatever it is you struggle, in whatever you are attempting to accomplish, in whatever life you are trying to live, ask yourself, seriously: Have you invited the Lord Jesus to your “party,” and have you presented Him with your need?  Have you asked for His help and trusted Him to act?

If not, know that He has come down from heaven in the flesh, in love for you and for all people, and that He is at hand to hear and heed your prayer.  He is not far away from you, but He is near you in the Word that He speaks, in the Gospel that is preached to you, in His promise of mercy.

So, then, pray as He has taught you and invited you to pray.  Pray to Him, and call upon His Name, because He has commanded you to do so, because He has promised to hear and answer your prayer, and because you really do need Him for everything that matters.

Pray for your Daily Bread, and for the New Wine of the New Creation.  And pray each day for the forgiveness of your trespasses, which is the first and foremost thing that you need above all else.  Pray for His grace to help in time of need, and for the Gift of His Holy Spirit, that you may believe His Holy Word and live according to it here in time and hereafter in eternity.

Pray at all times and in all places — without ceasing — and do not lose heart.  Do not keep silent.

Pray in view of the Lord’s Hour of Glory, that is, in the Light of His Cross and Passion.  For that is where and how He has answered all of your prayers before you have even begun to ask.  And do so in the sure and certain confidence of His Resurrection from the dead, which is the Father’s resounding “Yes” and “Amen” to all your prayers and all your needs in Jesus Christ, His Son.

In His suffering and death, from His Cross to His borrowed Tomb, He has been planted as the true Vine; He produces good grapes and the best wine to the praise and glory of His God and Father, and for the joy and gladness of His people.  Whatever has been lacking, He has thus provided.

When you pray, therefore, look to His Cross and do not lose sight of it.  Behold His answer there in His Passion, in His body crucified but now risen.  And whatever He says to you, do it.  Even if it seems strange and pointless and utterly unlikely to do any good, do it anyway.  And if it’s hard, and if you suffer as a consequence, remember again what He has accomplished by His own Cross.

Whatever He has given you to work with in this life on earth, use it according to His Word in the hope of the Resurrection.  It will be sufficient, no matter how much or how meager it may be, and no matter how it looks to you or anyone else — whether it be great wealth or simple water only.

In your marriage, or without husband or wife.  In your family, or without any parents or children.  In your job, or out of work; whether you are still in school, unemployed, retired, or just plain tired.  In your own house and home, or out on the street with no place to lay your poor head.  Whatever He says to you within your station in life, do it, and rest assured that He will work it out for you.

If you lack anything, look to the Lord for all that you need.  And if you lack nothing, use what you have for the good of your neighbor, whomever the Lord has set along side of you or laid at your gate in need of your help.  For whatever you may have, be it much or little, it is the Lord’s gift of grace and a stewardship of His mercy for the common good.

You need not worry about yourself, what you will eat or drink, or what you will wear.  The Lord knows your needs and well provides them.  But you are His servant to care for your neighbor, for your family and friends, for your fellow Christians, and for your fellow man, even when it seems that you have nothing to offer.  Even if it is only a cup of water for one of His thirsty little ones.

Even the crosses that you bear are for the common good.  So do not feel sorry for yourself, but rejoice and be patient in your suffering, and call on the Name of the Lord in peace, hope, and love.

So, too, if you are an officer of this congregation, exercise that office for the common good.  But if you are not an officer, do not suppose that you have no responsibility for the Body of Christ or that you have nothing to contribute.  Whatever gifts you have been given are for the mutual help and edification of all.  As a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, you should know that from the Word of His Apostles, and from the example of His early Christians who had all things in common.

The Church is not a competition but a family.  You are given to serve your brothers and sisters in Christ, who is your true Husband and Head.  And your brothers and sisters are given to serve you.

First and foremost among the good gifts that you are given is the Word of Christ, His Gospel, His forgiveness of sins, for which He has taught you to pray, and which He freely gives you by grace.  That is yours, in Him, no matter how young or old you are, no matter how rich or poor.  Whether you have anything else, or nothing else at all, speak that Word of the Gospel as you also hear it.

Forgive those who trespass against you, as you are forgiven by the Lord.  Confess the Word of Christ to comfort and encourage your neighbor, and to strengthen your own faith by speaking it.

Pray, too, according to His Word and promise: for yourself and your family; for your friends, and for your enemies; for your neighbors near and far; for the Church, and for the whole wide world.

Do not keep silent, and do not speak what is false or foolish, but pray and confess the Word of Christ.  Encourage and exhort according to His Word.  Testify to what He has said and done.  Such words are not empty or useless.  They are powerful, living, and active, because they are of Christ.

Consider what His Word says and gives to you: He delights in you and rejoices over you in love.  He calls you by His own Name, for He is your Bridegroom and His Father is your God and Father.

Along with that, by the washing of the water with His Word He has forgiven you all your sins, poured out His Holy Spirit generously upon you, rescued you from death and the devil, opened heaven to you, and bestowed the divine gifts of eternal life and salvation upon your body and soul.

He speaks, and it is so: Let there be! And by water, Word, and Spirit, you are His New Creation.

And now, then, from the waters of your Holy Baptism, see here the Wedding Feast to which He invites you and brings you.  Not all of your parties on earth will be brilliant or smashing, that is for sure, but this Wedding Feast of Christ, the Lamb of God, has no end nor lacks any good thing.

What is more, at this Banquet you are not only His dear guest, but you belong to the Bridal Party.  In the deep Mystery of the Body of Christ, you too are His beloved and beautiful Bride, for with His Word He has betrothed you and wed you to Himself, to have and to hold forever and ever.

Here is the Abundance of His House and the River of His Delights, given and poured out for you.  From His Cross, from His own innermost being, His holy Flesh and precious Blood are given as your Daily Bread and poured out for you and for the many as your true Spiritual Drink indeed.

This New Wine of the New Creation, which is His own Blood of the New Testament, is the best Wine, the choicest Vintage.  It is His Holy Covenant with you, which no man shall put asunder.  It cleanses you from sin and clothes you with His Righteousness and Holiness within and without.

It is the First Fruit and Pledge of the Good Land the Lord has sworn to you, to give you according to His loving-kindness and tender mercies.  The One who promises is faithful, and He shall do it.  His banner over you is Love, and His steadfast Love endures forever.  That is most certainly true.  His Love is stronger than death and larger than any other sort of life you have otherwise known.

You see here, He has brought you to His Banquet Hall.  His left hand is under your head, and His right hand embraces you.  Dearly beloved, whatever He says to you, do it.  And what, then, does He say?  “Come, eat and drink without money and without cost.  Open your mouth and be fed.  Drink freely from the Rivers of Life.  It is all for you.  It is for the forgiveness of all your sins.”

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

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