31 March 2016

Repent, Trust Christ, and Live

Simon Peter was called and brought to contrition and repentance, from his sinful doubts and fears to faith in the forgiveness of his sins by Jesus Christ.  His strength was not in himself, but in the weakness of the Cross.  And in his own weakness he glorified God by the grace of the Lord Jesus.

It is by that weakness of the Cross that Simon Peter would strengthen his brethren and shepherd the sheep of the Lord Jesus Christ.  So are you also shepherded by the Ministry of the Gospel, fed and watered, guided and guarded from all harm and danger, by the great Good Shepherd of us all: Who has laid down His life for you — and taken it up again, in order to give you life in Himself.  Who has called you by name, and you are His — and you know His Voice, and you follow Him.

But do you love Him?  Do you value Him and love Him more than your life in this world?  Would you follow Him where you do not wish to go?  Would you follow Him even to prison or to death?

Where you are put to the test, where your security and comfort are threatened, where your safety, health, and very life are in danger and at stake, do you know the Lord Jesus there and then?  Do you love Him, and are you willing to admit it?  Do you boldly confess Him in the face of hostility?

Or do you deny Him, and deny that you know Him, because you really don’t know Him at all?

Do you pray, praise, and give thanks in His Name, in both good times and bad, in confident faith?  Or do you rather curse, swear, lie, and deceive with your words and by your actions, despite the fact that you have been given to bear His Name in your Holy Baptism?

When you are called to account for your sins and your unfaithfulness, for your sinful doubts and anxieties, for your boastful pride and arrogance, for your fears and failures, for your denials and betrayals — when you are deeply grieved on account of your sins, and you weep bitterly under the Law that exposes your sinfulness and shame — it is not that God would mock you and shame you or drive you away, but that you should despair of yourself and every righteousness of your own, and that you would also then be driven to cast yourself on Christ, to fear, love, and trust in Him.

He calls you by His Word and Spirit to repent of your sins, to be turned away from them entirely in heart and mind, in thought, word, and deed; and that you should believe in Christ and live in Him by the way of His Cross, and enter by faith through suffering and death into His Resurrection.

So that, being ashamed of yourself, you would no longer be ashamed of Christ and His Gospel, but that, as often as you have fallen in the past, and as often as you fail and fall short yet again, He would raise you up and restore you by His grace through His forgiveness of your sins.

It is for this reason and for this purpose that He has been crucified and raised again: Not to call the self-righteous but real sinners to repentance.  And thus to heal the sick.  To feed the hungry.  To quench your thirst with living water.  To forgive your sins and give you life by His Gospel.

It is likewise for this reason and this purpose that He calls and sends His servants to shepherd His sheep, to tend and feed His lambs; that you should be guarded and kept safe from the roaring lion and the howling wolf; that you should graze safely upon the green grass of His living Word; that you should dwell within His House, now and forever, and feast with Him at His Banquet Table.

Come then, little lamb of the Lord Jesus, dear sheep of the Good Shepherd.  Do not be afraid, but draw near with confidence, and be at peace in Him who remembers you in love but remembers your sins no more.  Eat from His hand, drink from His Chalice, and live by His grace and mercy.

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

28 March 2016

Led by His Word to the Body of Jesus

There is the truth of the matter, in accordance with all the Holy Scriptures, that by His Cross and Passion, by His holy, precious Blood and by His innocent suffering and death, the Lord Jesus, the Christ, has redeemed you from sin, death, and hell forever.

But then there is also what you see and feel and experience in the world, in your body and life on earth, which is often full of sadness, disappointment, sickness and suffering of various kinds, the pervasiveness of sin, and the constant press of death upon your flesh.

All around you, everywhere you look, bombarding your senses from the internet and newspaper, and then up close and personal, you see only the Cross and not the Resurrection.  You have heard about the empty tomb, which is intriguing and perplexing, but the risen Jesus you do not see.

The Body of Jesus is missing.  Did you happen to notice that yesterday?  The risen Lord makes no appearance in the Easter Sunday Gospel from St. Luke.  You’re left wondering and waiting.

He has vanished from your sight, and your eyes are prevented from seeing Him.  Even when He is standing right in front of you or walking alongside of you, He is hidden from your eyes and unrecognizable.  Your intellect and knowledge are unable to fathom the mystery of His presence.

He has acted as though He were moving on and leaving you behind.  And so it seems that, all the good news of Easter notwithstanding, your day in the sun is over and done; that night must be at hand, as the darkness of death settles upon you and threatens to drag you down into despair.

But, O foolish one, so slow of heart to believe the Word that God has spoken to you by His Son!

The Cross and suffering are not your defeat, but the Victory of God in Christ and the exercise of His divine Glory for your salvation from sin, death, and hell.  He has redeemed you by His Cross!

Not only that, but in the speaking of His Gospel — in the Word of His Cross, and in the promise of His Resurrection — the crucified and risen Lord Jesus is close at hand.  For by His Word and with His Holy Spirit, He draws near to walk the hard road with you, and to abide with you.

So, repent of your despair and unbelief.  Believe the Gospel, and receive the gifts of Christ Jesus.

Learn to pray as He has taught you, with all boldness and confidence in Him.  Not only when it all seems rosy, right, and good, but all the more so when it does not.  Heed not your senses, nor trust your own experience, knowledge, and wisdom, but hear and believe the Word of the Lord Jesus.

Call upon Him in every trouble.  Pray, praise, and give thanks to His Name, even before you have seen the evidence of His rescue and redemption.  It is sure and certain that, not only will He hear and answer your prayer, but that He is already aware of your need and is already acting to shine the light of His mercy upon you, to give you life instead of death, and to raise you up in Himself.

Only bear in mind that He enters into His Glory by the way of the Cross, and that He brings you into Glory with Himself by the fruits and benefits of His Cross.  He works repentance in you by His Cross and Passion, and He brings you from unbelief to faith by the forgiveness of His Cross.

Although He comes to you by this way and means — and as scary as the Cross truly is when you hear that your fellow Christians in the world, in these gray and latter days, are being shot, blown up, and crucified for bearing that same fair Name which you also bear as a disciple of Christ Jesus — nevertheless, pray that He would remain with you here in His Church under the Cross.

Pray, not with doubts and fears, but in the faith and confidence of His Resurrection from the dead.  Despite appearances and experiences to the contrary, He is a very present help in time of trouble.  He is here with His Cross, not to make things worse, but to save you; not to hurt, but to heal you.

We follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us on the Road to Emmaus.  We have invited the Lord Jesus to come and be our guest, to enter this house that our mothers and fathers in the faith have built, which we now care for and support with our dollars, time, and efforts.  We call on the Name of the Lord and ask Him to abide with us here on the corner of Milton & Dale.

But here we find ourselves in His House, as guests at His Table, and that He is our gracious Host, our divine Waiter, and the Banquet itself that He has prepared and now spreads before us in love.

Here is where Jesus is found.  Here is His Body, missing from the empty tomb but given in the Breaking of the Bread.  This is where the disciples of Jesus are gathered by His Word and Spirit from all the highways and byways of the world — with all their sins and griefs and sorrows, with all their baggage, quirks, and idiosyncracies — to recline at His Table, to be served by His hand.

This is where and how He reveals and gives Himself to you.  Not yet to your eyes, but to your heart and mind and mouth; that you should here behold Him at His Altar, by faith and not by sight.

He is not playing tricks on you or teasing you.  This is not cat-and-mouse or hide-and-go-seek.  He strengthens your faith and feeds you by His Cross to give you the Life of His Resurrection in both your body and your soul.  So do you enter, by His grace, into the Glory of Christ Jesus.

His Word declares the Truth, and by His Word and Spirit He opens your ears and eyes, your heart and mind, your lips and tongue to receive it, to believe it, and to confess it in this hostile world.

This Blood, which He pours out for you to drink, has redeemed you from all wickedness and evil; and this Body, which He gives you to eat, has conquered death and the devil.  See here how He loves you, and rejoice in His Salvation.  As He is risen indeed, so also do you live forever in Him.

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

27 March 2016

The Word of the Resurrection

The Resurrection should not come as any surprise, for it is the fulfillment of the Word of God, as the Holy Scriptures of the Prophets had foretold, and as the Lord Jesus Himself had also spoken.

But it does catch you by surprise and leave you reeling.  It seems amazing, and rather more like unbelievable nonsense than reliable fact.  Not just to the people way back when, but to you, right here and now on Easter Sunday morning.  For even though you fully expect to hear that Christ is risen (He is risen indeed!), you don’t actually expect it to make any difference or change anything in your life.  It makes for a nice greeting and it’s a good excuse for family gatherings and parties, but it doesn’t permeate your heart and mind, your body and soul, with the peace and hope that you long for all your days.  Instead of joy and confidence, you still tremble with anxiety and fear.

Although you would affirm at the drop of a hat that Jesus rose from the dead, you do not act like it, and you do not live as though it mattered, because you do not remember His Word.  Else you would not continue to curse or to covet, to boast of yourself, to spend so much on things that do not last and do not matter, to envy and resent your neighbor, or to harbor grudges and bitterness.

But to remember the Lord Jesus and His Word of the Resurrection, as the angel describes, is not a matter of recalling the story or keeping track of the details involved.  It is not a mental exercise, nor really any sort of activity or exercise on your part.  It is nothing you can dredge up for yourself.  It is rather to be engaged and acted upon by the Word itself; not as letters on the page, nor as a code for you to decipher, but the Word that is preached into your ears, into your heart and mind, by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the working of His Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

It is not an easy thing.  To remember the Word of Jesus is a miracle as great as the Resurrection.  Or, better to say, it is the miracle of the Resurrection as it is accomplished in your fallen flesh by the powerful mercies of God, lest you remain dead in your trespasses and sin.  For by your sinful nature, you do not remember or believe the Word of Christ.  You refuse to believe it, and you do not take it seriously.  Although it is beyond your reason and strength, you think it is beneath you.

If you are here in church regularly, you are tempted to presume that you already “know” it all.  Adults are as bad as children at playing that game.  But you don’t know as much as you think you do; there’s always more to learn.  Nor do you understand what you do know, not as you should.  And again, more to the point at hand, to “know” is not yet to remember what Jesus is speaking, for that requires not your intellect but your ears; not what you think, but what you hear and receive.

And if you are not in church regularly or often, assuming that your health is not preventing you from coming, your absence demonstrates well enough what you think of Jesus and His Word.  As though you had no need of Him.  As though you could live without the preaching of His Word.

Repent of your arrogance, and of your real ignorance.  If those faithful women who had followed and supported Jesus in His Ministry were still caught by surprise when they came to His empty tomb; and if His chosen disciples and holy Apostles did not believe the Word of His Resurrection at first, because of their hardness of heart; and if none of them were able to remember, to believe, or to rejoice in this Gospel, except by the hearing of the Word of Jesus — then do not kid yourself or flatter yourself that you can manage on your own.  That is both prideful and utterly naïve.

Why do you look for the Lord Jesus among the dead?  He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.  He is the Living One!  You will not find Him in your dead and dying flesh.  Nor in the cares and occupations of this perishing world.  Not in business ventures.  Not in your lavish vacations.  Not in your hobbies and diversions.  Not even in your family and close friends.  All of these things, no matter how precious, are subject to death and the grave as surely as you are.  They are all together withering grass, fading memories, and dust and ashes blowing in the wind.

You won’t find Jesus there among the dead, in what amounts to the graveyards and tombstones of this mortal life.  Memorials and monuments of death, that is all this world is able to remember.  But that is not where Jesus is.  And without Him there is no life or health or happiness or peace.

To have the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, and thus to have Life with God in Him, you must remember His Word.  Which means that you must hear Him speak and listen to what He says.  Not simply information, far less “do-it-yourself” instructions, but the Word of the Resurrection, that is, the Word of the Gospel, which does and gives what it says.

So, what does it mean that the Crucified One has risen from the dead — that He is risen indeed! — and that He is the Living One?  What difference does it make?

It means that your sin has been dealt with, atoned for, and removed, once and forever, and that you are now reconciled to God in Christ.  Although you were His mortal enemy, He has made peace between you and Him.  Be at peace with Him, therefore, and live in peace with your neighbors.

You need not be afraid, nor tremble with anxiety at whatever might be coming down the pike.  For the Resurrection of Christ Jesus means that your death has been undone, and that your damnation has been taken away.  Baptized into Him, into His Cross and Resurrection, you have already died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  So there is nothing at all that can you hurt you forever.

His Resurrection means that neither Satan, the Accuser, nor even God’s own righteous Law may condemn you any longer, because the One who died in your place has been vindicated, justified, and exalted to the Right Hand of the Father.  As He is your Righteousness, you live by faith in Him, and there is no charge that can be sustained or stand against you.  You are innocent in Him.

That is what is true for you in Christ Jesus.  In His Resurrection from the dead, you are also raised and made alive.  Although your mortal flesh and blood are still perishing and returning to the dust, you live unto God in the Body of Christ, and so shall your body also be glorified on the last day.

Are you weak and weary and downhearted?  Christ has risen.  In Him, you too shall rise.

Are you guilty and fearful and teetering on the edge?  Christ has risen.  Your sins are forgiven.

Are you skeptical, incredulous, and doubting?  Christ has risen.  Your faith is not in vain.

His Resurrection and His Life are not far away and out of reach.  They are given to you here in the preaching of His Word and in the Sacrament of His Altar.  In fact, His Word of the Resurrection is always directing you and bringing you to the Table of His Holy Communion, to the gift of His crucified and risen Body, and to the New Testament in His holy and precious Blood.

It is in the celebration of this Feast, in the giving and receiving of this Bread and this Cup, in the proclamation of His death until His comes, and in the blessing of His Name, that you are given to remember the Lord Jesus Christ, as He remembers you with His love and mercy and forgiveness.

Here is what is missing from all the dead and deadly monuments of this dying world.  Here is the Body of the Lord Jesus, by which He has conquered death, atoned for sin, and reconciled you and all the world to His God and Father in heaven.

Here is the Body that was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification.  It is given into your hands, into your mouth, and into your body, that you should die no more but rise and live with Him forever.  That is amazing, to be sure, but it comes as no surprise.  Remember the Word that He speaks even now: It is for you, and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

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

His God and Father Is Your God and Father

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him was nothing made that has been made.  And that same Word has become Flesh and dwelt among us, conceived and born of St. Mary, in order that we may behold His Glory, the Glory of the only-begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.

So has He come down from the Father in heaven, and taken our sins upon Himself, into His own Body of flesh and blood, and gone to the Cross, and laid down His Life for all of us in holy Love.  In this way, by His Cross, and in His Resurrection from the dead, He has departed from this vale of tears and returned in the Flesh to His God and Father, so that we should live with God in Him.

This is the great journey of the Son of God, from heaven above to earth below, and back again with you in tow.  He comes down to raise you up.  He becomes like you, that you might become like Him.  He has taken your sins upon Himself in order to atone for them, to remove them and be rid of them.  But He has taken your Flesh to be His own and retains it in His Resurrection, free of sin and set free from death, in order to give you Communion with the Holy Trinity in body and soul.

It is precisely in this journey of the only-begotten Son, that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  And no one comes to the Father but by Him, who has come down from the Father and returned to the Father through the suffering and death of His Cross into His great and glorious Resurrection.

That is why He says to you, today, in the accomplished fact of His Cross and Passion, that He is now ascending to His God and Father — who is now also your God and your Father in Christ!  For as you share His death by your Baptism in His Name, so do you share His Resurrection from the dead, and His Ascension into heaven, and His Sonship, and His Spirit, and His God and Father.  Thus do you live with Him in His Kingdom in His righteousness and purity, now and forever.

In this same pattern of the Cross and Resurrection, such as you share with Christ Jesus by way of His Holy Baptism, so have you heard that Mary Magdalene was brought from darkness into Light.

She came to the tomb while yet in the darkness of her unbelief, overcome with grief and sorrow, and forgetting the promise of the Resurrection.  But by His Word and Spirit, she was brought into the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  By His grace and tender mercy, she was given to see the Lord in whose crucified and risen Flesh the Father is revealed.

His Resurrection is the dawning of the New Creation, a new “in the beginning,” not only for dear St. Mary, but for all the beloved disciples of Jesus; for all of those whom He calls to Himself and catechizes in the one true faith.  It is thus on the first day of the week that the Word-made-Flesh declares, in the Voice of His Resurrection from the dead, “Let there be Light!” And it is so.

There is a similar transition from darkness to light, from unbelief to faith, in the case of Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loves.  But their journey from death to life in Christ is more ambiguous in this Holy Gospel, and not as poignant or as intimate as that of Mary Magdalene.

Consider how it was for poor, dear Mary to begin with.  She comes in the darkness, and then she flees from the empty tomb in fear and sadness and confusion.  Even after she returns, she is at a loss and does not know what to do.  She weeps with anguish and despair and stands there frozen in perplexity and grief.  She does not recognize Jesus when He appears, nor does she perceive the evidence of His Resurrection.  She supposes that He is must be a gardener, as though He were the old Adam, who must die, and not the New Man who lives.  She is so consumed by her concern for the handling of a corpse, for the burial of the dead, that she cannot comprehend the Light of Christ.

It is rather pathetic, and far too familiar, I fear.

But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls this poor little sheep, this tender lamb of His, by her name: “Mary,” He says, in much the same way that He has called you by name, and given you His own Name, in your Holy Baptism.  And just as He has promised, His sheep hear His voice, they know Him, and they follow Him.  As her Teacher, her Rabboni, Jesus catechizes Mary to recognize Him in His risen Flesh.  So does He also catechize you by His Word to recognize Him in His Supper.

Even then, dear Mary still wants to cling to the Jesus she has known before, not in the Flesh of His Resurrection, but according to the mortal flesh that bore our sins and griefs and sorrows to the death of His Cross.  It is not that He is two different Men with two different Bodies, but she must let go of the past and lift up her heart and mind to her crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

Here is the problem: Mary at first is trying to hang on to the perishable and the mortal, just as you are tempted to hang on to your old Adam, and to the comfortable familiarity of your life in this world, despite the fact that it is cumbered by sin, by sickness and death.  And when a loved one has died, is there not a place in your heart that longs to have him back and keep him here in this vale of tears — even though you know better — because you are selfish and lonely and afraid?

But Jesus, your dear Savior, your crucified and risen Lord, He is not to be sought in the commerce or confines of this body and life.  His Kingdom is not of this world.  He has returned to the Father in the life of the Resurrection from the dead.  He has not left the Body behind; it is in His Body that He has risen from the dead and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father.  But so has He also, in His Body, put sin and death and the legacy of sin and death to an end, once and for all.  He has put mortality down, in order to raise you up to immortality.  He has risen, never to die again.

Thus He declares that He is your Brother, and that His God and Father is yours forever in Him.  He does not leave humanity behind, but in His Resurrection He reveals Himself as the true and perfect Man, in whom you are justified, reconciled to God, and sanctified by His Holy Spirit.  In Him you are rescued from sin, raised up from death, and seated with Him in the heavenly places.

In His innocent suffering and death, He has descended into the depths of your depravity, into your sin, death, and hell.  And so it is, that, in His Resurrection and Ascension, He raises you up with Himself to the heights of His divine glory, even to the Bosom of His God and Father in heaven.

Out of the darkness of death, He calls you by His Gospel — by His Word of forgiveness, as by the washing of the water with His Word and Holy Spirit — into this Light and Life of His Salvation.

By His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins, He calls you from your unbelief to fear, love, and trust in Him by faith in His Word and promises.  He opens your eyes to see that He is your Lord and Savior; to behold in His Flesh the divine Glory of His God and Father, and yet, by His grace, to call this Lord your own dear Brother, and this God your own dear Father.

In this faith and trust and confidence, in this beautiful new relationship that you have been given with the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit — as a beloved child of God in Christ Jesus — He tenderly invites you to lay hold of Him, to embrace Him and cling to Him, to worship and adore Him, here and now at His Altar in His Church, in His holy Body and precious Blood.

Indeed, He thus lays hold of you and clings to you in Love, so that nothing at all, neither sin, nor death, nor the devil and hell, nor anything else, shall ever be able to snatch you away from Him.

Crucified and risen from the dead, immortal, imperishable, and glorious, He gives Himself to you in this Sacrament.  He feeds your mortal body with His own Flesh as the guarantee and surety of your own bodily resurrection from the dead to the life everlasting of your body and soul in Him.

Has He not caused it to be written, and given you to know and believe, that He is your Redeemer, and that He lives!?  Indeed He has, and so He does.  And as He lives, who once was dead, so shall you also live forever in His Body.  Even after your skin and bones have been destroyed, yet, from your own flesh, in the resurrection of your body, with your own two eyes made clear and bright by the Holy Spirit, you shall behold your Savior and your God, and your own dear Father in Him.

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

25 March 2016

Receive the Fruits of the Passion in the Church

It is made clear throughout the Holy Gospels, and by the evangelist St. John, in particular, that the Passion of the Christ was undertaken and accomplished voluntarily by the Son of God: out of His great love for the Father, and out of His own divine love for this whole wide world of lost sinners.

He is handed over to His Cross and Passion according to the good and gracious will of God, in accordance with, and in fulfilment of, the Old Testament Scriptures.

In short, Jesus lays down His life willingly and freely, graciously and lovingly.  In doing so, He bears the sins and iniquities of the entire world, and all the consequent griefs and sorrows thereof.  He endures the judgment, condemnation, and punishment of the Law, the righteous wrath of God against all sins, even the eternal damnation of hell, compressed into those hours of His Passion.

So it is, that, yes, by His stripes you are healed.

But this healing of your body and life from sin, death, and hell, and the gift of health and strength and eternal salvation in Christ Jesus, are actually administered and given to you as a medicine of immortality in the Gospel–Word and Sacraments of Christ Jesus within His Holy Christian Church.  These means of grace are the life-giving Fruits of His Holy Cross and Passion.

So it is that St. John directs you to hear and receive the Passion of the Christ, and to embrace the benefits of His Passion by faith within His Church on earth, by giving attention to the preaching of His Word and by partaking of His Holy Sacraments.  For the Cross and Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ will do you no good apart from faith in the Ministry of His Gospel.

There are actually a number of ways by which St. John points you to this life of the Church and indicates that it is the place where the Passion of the Christ is now given to you for life in Him.

There is, most profoundly, the way that Jesus gives His Mother to the disciple whom He loves, and His beloved disciple to His Mother.  Neither St. Mary nor St. John is identified by name, but they stand at the foot of the Cross as living icons of the Church herself and of all the disciples of Jesus.

The Church is here entrusted to the Apostolic Ministry of the Word; and the disciples of Jesus, the children of His God and Father in heaven, are here entrusted to His Church on earth.  For in much the same way that St. Mary conceived and gave birth to the Son of God by the Word and Spirit of His Father, so does the Church conceive and give birth to the children of God by the preaching of the Word of Christ and by the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit in Holy Baptism.  And as you have received that new birth from His Church, so are you a disciple whom He loves.

It is within His Church on earth that Jesus speaks His Word openly for all the world to hear and believe, or to reject to their own demise.  Just as Jesus declared before the high priest, Caiaphas, that He had always spoken openly in the synagogues and in the Temple.  So does He continue to speak in the congregations of His Christian Church by the Ministry of His Gospel.  That is where He preaches, and that is where and how you apprehend Him, not with violence, but by faith.

In particular, Christ Jesus speaks to His Church from the Cross, by the Word of His Cross, which is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  And it is by this preaching that He pours out the Holy Spirit upon His people from the atoning Sacrifice of His Crucifixion.  Otherwise, apart from the Atonement of His Cross and Passion, you would never be able to receive the Holy Spirit and survive, since you are sinful and unclean, unrighteous and unholy.

But when Jesus has finished His work of redemption, He brings it to perfection by giving up His Spirit from the Cross; or, to say it better, in the way that St. John does, He hands the Spirit over.

He breathes His Holy Spirit upon you, in order to give you life with God in your body and soul, by the Word of forgiveness that He speaks through His ministers of the Gospel who are sent in His Name and stead.  St. John makes that clear in the next chapter of the Holy Gospel, as we’ll hear again on the Second Sunday of Easter.  For by and with His Spirit, the Lord Jesus gives the Office of the Keys to His Church on earth for the binding and releasing of sins with His own authority.

Along with the Gift of the Holy Spirit from the Cross, St. John also describes and emphasizes that Jesus then pours out the water and the blood from His wounded side in the accomplished fact of His Sacrifice.  Not only does the Evangelist testify to this event here in the Holy Gospel, but he refers again to the triune testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood in his First Epistle.

On the sixth day of the first Creation, the Lord caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, and from his side, from one of his ribs, God crafted the Woman and brought her to the Man to be his bride.  So, now, on the sixth day of the New Creation, on this Good Friday, the new and better Adam enters the sacred sleep of death upon the Tree of His Cross, and from His side His holy Bride, the Church, is born from the water and the blood of her dear Lord Jesus Christ.

The Church herself receives her entire life from the Body of Christ, even as she lives in His Body and becomes one flesh with Him.  She is both cleansed and covered by the washing of the water with His Word, like a Bride made ready for her Husband.  And she is enlivened and sustained on her pilgrimage by the Spiritual Drink of His holy and precious Blood.  In the same way, in turn, her children are born from the waters of the font and nursed on the Blood of Christ at His Altar.

Indeed, it is not possible to think or speak rightly about the Sacrifice of Christ, the Passover Lamb of God, without also considering the sacred Meal of His Body and His Blood.  For He not only dies in the place of sinners, but He calls them to newness of life in His crucified and risen Body, and He feeds them with the Fruits of His Cross.  He feeds you with His own Flesh and Blood.

St. John makes this point, that Jesus is the Passover Lamb, throughout his account of the Passion.  Sometimes the connection is subtly expressed, but it is persistent, not only in the Passion but really throughout the Holy Gospel.  Already in the preaching of St. John the Baptist, you have heard that Jesus is the Lamb of God; and again, that means not only that He is sacrificed for the sins of the world, but that His Flesh is given for the life of the world, to be eaten by His disciples in holy faith.

Jesus is crucified as the Passover lambs are being sacrificed.  And in fulfilment of the Scriptures, “not a bone of Him is broken,” as per the Old Testament cooking instructions for the Passover.

So, then, you partake of the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus by participating in His Supper, by eating the Body that was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification, and by drinking of the Blood that was poured out from His side to cover and protect you from death.  To do so is not a private matter, nor even a simple gathering of your own little family in your home.  It is the Feast of the Father and the Son in the Household and Family of God.  It is celebrated in His Church, and it binds together His disciples from all nations in the one Body of Christ Jesus.

In the same vein, let us also consider the Cup which Jesus receives from the hand of His Father, which He drinks for all of us and our salvation.  It is for Him the Cup of wrath, of the judgment of God, of suffering and bitter death, which He endures for the sins of the entire world.  This Cup He drinks down to the dregs, in order to remove its deadly and damnable sting from you and all.

In draining that Cup through His Sacrifice upon the Cross, He has thereby also filled it with His own precious Blood, which He now pours out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the New Testament in His Blood, He says to His disciples.  It binds you to God in Christ, not for the punishment that you have otherwise deserved, but for Communion with the Holy Trinity.

By the Cross and Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Cup of wrath and judgment and suffering and death has become for you the Cup of Blessing, which we bless in and with His Name.  And this Cup of the Lord now overflows with His forgiveness and His life, poured out for you in peace.

As you take up this Cup of Salvation and call on the Name of the Lord, you give all thanks and praise to God through Jesus Christ, and in His tender mercies you are given to drink from the Fountain of His crucified and risen Body.  You feast at His Table in His House under the shelter of His Cross, and so shall you abide in Him, as He abides in you, unto the life everlasting.

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

Jesus Enters into the Glory of His Kingdom

That Jesus was crucified between two criminals, “one on His right, and the other on His left,” recalls two earlier incidents in His life and ministry, both of which are quite important and shed light on the significance of this second Word from the Cross.

On one occasion, the two sons of Zebedee, James & John, came to Jesus with a request, that they be allowed to sit, “one on His right, and the other on His left” when He came into the glory of His Kingdom.  In response, Jesus catechized His disciples to understand that He would come into His Kingdom, His power, and His Glory, by the way of His Cross.  He also indicated that His disciples would share His Cross and His Kingdom by way of His Baptism and His Chalice.  But, as for those on His right and on His left, that would be for those for whom it had been prepared.

And here now on the Cross, ironically enough, is the fulfillment of that Word, as the two criminals are crucified with Jesus, “one on His right, and the other on His left.”  For so is He, the King of the Jews, numbered with transgressors in His glorious Passion, even unto death.

The world cannot comprehend this Glory of Christ the Crucified, but it is for this purpose that He has come from the Father and returns to Him.  Already at His Baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus has taken His place with poor, miserable sinners, such as you, in order to associate sinners with Himself, and to reconcile sinners to His God and Father in His crucified and risen Body.  Hence His reputation for welcoming sinners and eating with them.  For like St. John before Him, and like the holy Apostles who will follow after, He preaches repentance and forgiveness of sins.

It is no different for you or anyone else, when He calls you to take up the Cross and follow Him, to be baptized into His death, and to rise with Him to newness of life in faith and love.

His Cross is indeed the decisive way and means by which all of these things are accomplished, and the decisive measure by which all people are finally and forever divided.  For you know that, when the Son of Man comes in His Glory and is seated on His glorious Throne, He will separate the sheep from the goats, “one on His right, and the other on His left.”  In the middle is the One who was crucified for their transgressions and raised from the dead for their justification.

So, then, if He is numbered with transgressors and hung on the Cross for their transgressions, it is clear that this Hour of His Passion is the defining moment in all of history.  His Cross is the line in the sand between those who are righteous by grace alone through faith in Him, and those who are condemned and sentenced as unrighteous under the Law.

Confronted by that momentous event — the Crucifixion of Jesus the Christ — one of the criminals who is crucified with Him is called to repentance and brought to faith.  By the Word and Spirit of God, he makes a beautiful confession in the midst of his suffering, and in the face of his death.

According to the Law, he rightly judges himself a sinner, deserving of nothing but punishment.  Yet, by faith in the Gospel, he acknowledges that Jesus is God and King, that He is righteous and suffering innocently, and that, even now, He is on His way to victory and has the power to save.  Whatever that man’s crimes have been, he knows the promise of the Resurrection and the life everlasting, and he fixes his hope for that life on Jesus.

He calls upon the Name of the Lord.  He prays that Jesus will remember him when He comes into His Kingdom.  And in this way that poor sinner lays hold of the fact that Yahweh remembers His people with forgiveness and deals with them according to His mercy and steadfast love.  Dying to himself, he perceives and confesses the profound theology of the Cross, that God the Lord is not absent from but revealed in the Sacrifice of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  That is a mighty faith indeed, in the most unlikely and yet most appropriate of places.

And Jesus responds with those familiar words of grace:  Amen, Amen, it shall be so!  Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.  There is God’s resounding “Yes” in Christ Jesus.

His Kingdom is not of this world, but is the Paradise of the New Creation.  He enters upon His reign by returning to His Father via the Cross, and in doing so He brings Man back to the Garden.  What is more, it is entirely by grace.  It is granted freely, not to those who work hard and keep their noses clean, but to those who own their faults and acknowledge them in humble repentance, who call upon the Lord by faith in His Word.  Thus, to the man who is rightly punished for his crimes, Paradise is given as a gift by and from the Cross of Christ

This beautiful Word of the Gospel, such as Jesus speaks from the Cross to that one repentant thief, is a Word that He speaks to you, as well, also from the Cross, down through the ages in His Church.  And it is just as sure and certain, just as comforting and precious, for you as for that man.

The Lord Jesus does remember you in mercy and forgiveness.  He remembers the Name by which He has named you in your Holy Baptism, and so does He call you by name back to Himself day after day.  He remembers you with His Word of the Gospel, which He preaches to you in love, that you should thus believe in Him and live by His grace.  He remembers you in the Holy Communion, as He gives to you His Body and His Chalice, that you should Feast with Him in His Kingdom.

And when you are brought to an awareness of your sins, and you are sorely accused by the devil, and you are suffering the consequences of your crimes, the Lord Jesus remembers you by calling you to repentance and speaking His Word of Absolution through your pastor.  He stretches out His hands to the right and to the left, to gather you to Himself, to bless you with His Spirit, and to grant you His free and full Salvation.  None of this according to your merit, but according to His mercy.

When Jesus thus remembers you in each and all of these ways and means of His grace, He is not simply thinking about you — nor recalling you, as though He had ever once forgotten you — but He is actively present and close at hand to love you and to save you.  He is by your side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit.  He is hung beside you on the Cross, dying with you here on earth, that you should also be with Him, where He is, and live with Him in Paradise forever.

As He was numbered with you in your transgressions and your death, so are you numbered with Him in His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  For He was counted as a criminal, Himself, so that you should be counted as a beloved child of God in Him and glorified in His Resurrection.

Now, to be sure, He does not yet remove the Cross from you in this poor life of labor; no more than He would come down from the Cross in order to save Himself from death and the grave.  Instead, He gives you the promise of His Resurrection and His Life by the way of His Cross and Passion.

Think of that repentant criminal, who prayed for mercy and received it.  He was not rescued from the Cross; he continued to suffer, and he died.  Yet, by faith in Christ the Crucified, he was brought through his suffering and death into the glorious Kingdom of the Son of God.

Recognize in this example that the Cross you bear in your life on earth, your suffering in the flesh, and finally your death from this vale of tears, are no indication that God has forgotten you or cast you away from His presence.  For one thing, you are crucified with Him, and He with you.  He is not far away from you but shares your Cross and suffering.  So also do His death and yours serve the purpose of putting sin to death and into the grave.  You are crucified to yourself, to your sin, and to the world, that you should rise and live with Jesus in His Kingdom and His Righteousness.  Even as your mortal flesh perishes, so do you enter, both body and soul, into Paradise with Him.

Cling to His Word and promise, to His resounding “Yes” and “Amen” in answer to your prayer of faith.  Remember Him, as He remembers you.  For He is faithful, and He will surely do as He has promised.  Indeed, already in His Church on earth, in the Holy Communion, Jesus brings you into His Paradise — into His glorious Garden of Eden, made brand new and better than ever — by feeding you with the Fruits of His Cross, which is the Tree of Life.  As always, His Cross is at the center, in the midst of the Garden, not for death but for life on the right hand and on the left.

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

24 March 2016

The Passover Lamb of God

The Sons of Israel were not spared from death because of any merit or worthiness or innocence of their own.  They were delivered on account of the Lamb, which was sacrificed in their place.  Its blood covered them, and its flesh fed them.  Not as though any animal could merit atonement or redemption, but it was their rescue by the Word of the Lord, by the grace and mercy of God.

On account of His divine and holy Love, He instituted the Passover as the Prophecy and Promise of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  In Him is the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets, of the Exodus from Egypt and the Good Land of Canaan.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the firstborn Son of God from all eternity, who has also been conceived and born as the promised Seed of the Woman, of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.  In His own flesh and blood, He is the Ram caught by His horns upon the branches of His Tree, the Lamb that God has provided for Himself in place of all the sons and daughters of Adam.

He is given and poured out upon the Altar of His Cross as the Propitiation for your sins, and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  His Sacrifice has been completed, once and for all, and there is no more sacrifice for sin.  His Victory is certain, finished, and complete.

Yet, the Passover of God requires not only that His Lamb be sacrificed, but that His holy, precious Blood be applied to you, that it should mark and cover you; and that you should eat His sacred Flesh in repentance and faith, with praise and thanksgiving to the Name of the Lord.

It is true that you are already clean by the Word that He has spoken to you; for He has called you by the Gospel and sanctified you with His gifts.  And in Holy Baptism He has washed you with water and His Word, and poured out His Spirit upon you through the forgiveness of your sins.

But consider your life and your circumstances in this world.  You do not love your neighbor as Christ the Lord loves you, but you do continue to sin day after day in your thoughts, words, and actions.  And you are surrounded on all sides, within and without, by sin and death, and by the assaults and temptations of the devil, the world, and your own fallen and perishing flesh.

Your covetous lust can so easily lead you astray, into sin and finally death, as happened in the tragic case of Judas.  How often do you compromise yourself for money or for pleasure?  And how often do you excuse your selfishness and sin, supposing that you are in a position to call the shots?  But to pursue that path is to open your heart, your body and life, to Satan and his wicked ways.

If the Lord Jesus does not continue to wash you, to cleanse you with His Blood and feed you with His Flesh, you shall have no part in Him.  If He does not teach you by His Word, you shall perish.  You shall be consumed and destroyed by the angel of death on account of your unbelief and sin.

Do not be like Simon Peter, questioning and resisting the Word of the Lord and His Means of the Gospel.  Rather, hear and heed the Word of Christ, and trust Him to serve you in His divine Love.  Remain in the House of His God and Father, and so keep the Feast at His Table.  Live and love as a child of God, and give no place to the devil in your heart, mind, or behavior.  But where you have fallen into temptation and sin, return to the Lord your God by fleeing to His mercy in Christ Jesus.

Your life as a Christian surely ought to be one of joyful faith and confidence, and how shall we not give thanks on a night like this, in particular.  But so also are you called to live in the fear of the Lord, and to exercise sober judgment and repentance by His Word and Spirit in this sinful world.

Examine yourself, as the Holy Scriptures and the Small Catechism admonish and instruct you.  Consider your station in life according to the Ten Commandments, and judge yourself honestly in the light of God’s Word.  Recognize your sinfulness, your weakness, your mortality and death.

And knowing your failure and your need, confess your sins and receive the forgiveness of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  Be returned to the cleansing and life-giving waters of your Holy Baptism by the right use of His Word in Confession and Holy Absolution.  And as He remembers you in love and speaks to you in peace here in His Supper, so eat the Flesh with which He feeds you, and drink the Blood with which He removes your sins, shelters you from death, and brings you into Paradise.

Here at the Table of the Lord is where and how you learn to love and serve your neighbor as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ; because here is where and how He loves you and serves you as His own, sustaining you with His Body and Life throughout your pilgrimage, even to the end.

Here is the Hour of His Glory, where He is glorified in His grace and mercy as your Savior.  For here is where the Glory of His Cross, His Victory over sin and death, and the power of His bodily Resurrection are all given to you, and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Here the devil cannot have you or tyrannize you anymore; not while the Word of Christ rings in your ears, in your heart, in your body and your mind.  Nor can your sin accuse you or harm you; not while you cling by faith to the forgiveness of the Gospel.  And even death cannot touch you forever; not while you rest and remain in the Body and Blood of the Lamb.

Though the world may shed your blood and slay you, yet the Lord Himself prevails for you and saves you from sin, death, and hell.  For you are baptized into Christ, and here in His Supper you abide in Him, and He abides in you, unto the life and salvation of your body and your soul.

It is the Lord’s Passover, and you are His Israel indeed, whom He sets free from bondage and brings through the wilderness into the good Land that He has promised; that you may live with Him in His Kingdom and worship Him and serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all your days, even to the close of the age, to the resurrection of your body and eternal life in Him.

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

23 March 2016

To Listen and to Live as a Disciple

By the grace of God, the Lord Jesus has chosen you and called you to Himself, to hear His Voice, to learn from Him, and to live by faith in His Word.  You are His own, anointed by His Holy Spirit and adopted by His Father, as your Holy Baptism testifies and His Word of Holy Absolution reaffirms and upholds.  By His Ministry of the Gospel, He washes your feet and cleanses you from sin, within and without, unto the life everlasting.

By His Word and Spirit, you are a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.  So, listen to Him, and live as He lives.  And know above all else that He loves you and serves you faithfully, even unto death.

So does He welcome you to recline at His Table with Him, to lean upon Him and rest yourself in Him.  Here from His own hand He feeds you with that Bread which is His holy Body, and He gives you to drink from that Cup of Salvation which is the New Testament in His Blood.

Do not take these most precious Gifts lightly or for granted, but rejoice in them, give thanks for them, and live as one who is washed and fed by the Son of God.

But lest you become puffed up and full of yourself, consider and take to heart that Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter were also washed and fed by the same Lord Jesus Christ.  And be sure of this, that you are no greater, no better, and no stronger than either of those men, who were among the chosen twelve disciples and Apostles of Christ.

Do not suppose that you will be able to guard and keep yourself from harm and danger, that you will be able to survive the assaults and accusations of the devil, or that you will be able to resist the temptations and deceptions of Satan, who hates you and seeks to destroy you.  On earth is not his equal, and no might or power of yours will defeat him.  But, make no mistake, he is out to get you, and as he did with Simon Peter, so would the devil sift you also like wheat.  With vile craft and evil spite he would lead you astray into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.

By yourself, you are prone to sinful pride on the one hand, and to sinful despair on the other hand.  Either way, you are a sitting duck and easy prey for the old evil foe.

Therefore, do not presume to take your life into your own hands, whether to make your own way, to save yourself, or to kill yourself.  You are not God.  Your strategies are misguided, and apart from the Word and Spirit of Christ you are simply mistaken.  You think you know what’s what and what you’re doing, but you do not.  Your only hope and only help are in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Be on your guard against all other answers and alternatives.  Do not betray your Lord and sell Him out, not for cash, and not for any other advantage in this world.  That will not end well for you.  Neither boast nor even suppose that you are able to do and accomplish what only Jesus can do.

In short, do not attempt to make a life for yourself, to go it alone, or to be your own savior.  Rather, receive and rely upon the means of grace by which the Lord Jesus chooses to serve and sustain you with His Gospel.  Hear and heed His Word, and embrace Him in His Holy Sacraments in the humility of repentance and in the joyful confidence of faith.

Repent of your presumptuous pride and sinful self-righteousness.  Despair of yourself, of your own reason and strength.  But do not despair of Christ and His Love.  For such despair is only the other side of pride, in which you place yourself, your works, and your worthiness at the defining center.  That is not right, and it will not work.

Repent of your despair and of your self-conceit.  Do not betray your Lord, nor deny your Savior, by serving and relying on yourself.  But deny yourself and cling to Him, who comes to you in love and saves you by His grace alone.  Be lifted up by Christ as He stoops down in mercy to cleanse your dirty feet and to sanctify you by His Spirit in body and soul.

Now, to be sure, you cannot follow Him at the first, to go where He goes and do what He does.  That is His prerogative and His divine glory as the Son of God, your Savior.  He goes ahead of you to open the Way, to tread Satan, sin, and death beneath His feet by His death upon the Cross.

But so it is that you shall follow Him hereafter.  For you share His Cross and His Resurrection from the dead, by grace through faith in Him, by the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit.  As a disciple, you follow in His footsteps.  You listen to His Voice and live as He lives.

So does He call you and teach you to love your neighbor, as He loves you.  It remains ever and always the case that you love, both Him and others, because He first loves you.  And, oh, how He does love you: faithfully and freely, fully and forever.

He loves you with divine and holy Love.  He loves you by washing your feet and by feeding your body and soul with His flesh and blood.  He loves you by speaking His Word of forgiveness, mercy, and peace.  He loves you by calling you daily to repentance, from death to life in Him.

It is for this very purpose that He has called and sent His servants of the Word to speak and act on His behalf, in His Name and stead.  The Ministry of the Gospel is not simply a message about love, but an active and ongoing exercise of Love itself.

Those whom Jesus sends to love you in this way are sinful, mortal men, no better and no stronger than yourself, and of themselves no better and no stronger than Judas or Peter.

But, thankfully, it is the Lord Jesus who sends them to you, and it is Him that you hear and receive in the Word they speak by His divine command.

“This do,” He says, “in remembrance of Me.”  “As I have done for you, so do unto others.”  And so it goes from generation to generation, also here and now to you.

As He washes and feeds you by His Gospel, so serve and care for your neighbor within your own vocation.  And as He has opened your ears to listen and learn from Him as a disciple, so also speak with the grace of Christ, that you may strengthen the weary and the weak with His Word.

You’re not on your own, nor are you left to your own devices.  The Lord befriended you and reconciled you to Himself when you were His mortal enemy.  And, having done so, how much more does He continue to love you, even now, and even to the close of the age.  He loves you beautifully and boldly, though He knows your weaknesses and your sins.  Your betrayals and denials have not caught Him by surprise, nor trapped Him in circumstances beyond His control.  He loves you anyway, not because you are so lovable, but because He is Love.

He went to the Cross, as the Father sent Him, and He laid down His life willingly for you and for all people.  So has He also taken it up again by the Spirit of His Father, not for His own benefit, but that He might give you abundant Life in and with Himself, here and now and forever after.

Thus, with His great Love, He welcome you to recline here on His bosom, to rest yourself in Him here at His Table, where He feeds you with His Body and gives you to drink of His Blood — yes, even for you, He says — for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for life and salvation in Him.

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

20 March 2016

The Heart, Mind, and Spirit of Christ

Have this attitude in yourself, the heart, mind, and spirit of Christ Jesus, who did not seek His own advantage but the will of God and the salvation of sinners.  To live and to love as He has done on the Way of His Cross is to be like God in the flesh.  It is to bear His Image and Likeness in your body and life, as you were created to do.  It is to live unto righteousness by faith in His Word.

Not that you are righteous of yourself, but that your righteousness is found and received in Christ alone, who loves you and has given Himself for you.  Nor is it simply that you know what a godly, divine, and righteous life is like from His example, but that He has become your righteousness by His divine life, His godly death, and His Resurrection from the dead in human flesh and blood.

Even in the womb of His Mother Mary, in His Body just like yours, He is and remains the true and only God, of one and the same divine nature as the Father and the Holy Spirit.  That does not change when He becomes true Man.  But neither does He take it for granted.  He does not rest on His laurels or presume upon His status and prerogatives.  He does not insist upon His own way, nor enforce His human will upon His neighbors.  He does not live to serve Himself, but to serve others at His own expense to the glory of His God and Father.

He does not humble Himself by becoming Man, for that in itself is the fulfillment of God’s good creation from the beginning, that He should be the Image of God, the living Icon of the Father, the exact representation of His Likeness in the flesh, and all the fullness of the Deity in bodily form.  Yet, with all of that, this God-Man Jesus Christ humbled Himself by taking on the curse of sin and death.  He bore in His Body the Fall into sin and all the consequences of that great and mighty Fall.  He suffered all the frailties and weaknesses of your mortality, your sickness, your sorrow, and not only your death but the judgment of God against your sins and the damnation that you deserve.

All of this He does and suffers in obedience to His Father, in holy faith and confidence, and in holy love for you and all your neighbors in the world.  It is not easy or painless.  He does not enjoy it, but for the joy set before Him He endures the Cross in the hope and promise of the Resurrection, not for His own sake but for your salvation.  He does not consider it beneath Him.  He does not avoid the shame and disgrace of man, but He willingly makes that burden His own in order to raise the children of man from the dust of the earth and glorify them with His Righteousness and Life.

In the Cross and Passion of Christ you behold the great compassion of God and the perfection of His almighty power in mercy.  And in His Resurrection you are called to live by His righteousness, which is to live by faith in His forgiveness of your sins, to bear His Cross in peace and hope, and to glorify God in your body.  This is your calling as a Christian, as a child of God, as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ: to think and speak and act as He has done within your own station in life.

So, are you ready, then, as Simon Peter boasted, to go with your Lord Jesus wherever He goes, whether to prison or even to death on the Cross?  To bear His reproach and share His disgrace in the eyes of the fallen world?  Or do you fear the questions, accusations, and opinions of others?

Own that you are a Christian, not only in the safety of the congregation but in the public square.  Confess the truth, not only when it is popular and politically correct, but especially when it is under attack.  Speak up in defense of the defenseless, and then also put your money where your mouth is by helping to protect and support them in their needs.  Find the courage to admonish the erring according to your proper calling, which is to say, not by yelling at politicians on television from the comfortable anonymity of your couch, nor by passive aggressive Facebook posts, but by teaching your own children to fear the Lord; by disciplining your sons and daughters, not in anger but in love; and by refusing to accommodate evil or compromise your conscience on the job.

And where you have done wrong, where you have fallen short, where you have hurt or neglected to help your neighbor, and where you have failed to do your duty, find the courage to confess your sins, to seek the Holy Absolution of God, and to bear the fruits of repentance in your behavior.  In this, too, you bear the Cross of Christ, who bore your sins in His Body and suffered for them.

Do not kid yourself that you can follow Christ and live rightly as a Christian by any skill or effort of your own.  Nor suppose that, for that reason, it doesn’t matter and you need not worry about it.  On the contrary, pray the more fervently to your Father in heaven, and call on the Name of the Lord, that He would guard you against temptation and deliver you from the evil one, and above all, that He would preserve you in His Word and faith until you die, lest you fall away and perish forever.  And again, where and when you have fallen, for there is no one who does not stumble, be turned back to Christ and strengthened in Him by the preaching and ministry of His Gospel.

In other words, live not by our own ingenuity or personal strengths, but by faith in Christ Jesus.

Consider how very different He is from all the idols in your life to which you sacrifice, all those perishable and temporary things in which you invest so much of yourself, your time and energy, your money to the point of going into debt, your body and your health, and even your own soul.  Those false gods that occupy your heart and mind and dominate your days and nights are not able to help you; they cannot give you life.  They require so much of you, but whatever they may give you in return is fleeting and short-lived, even if it is not inherently wrong.  Enjoy the good gifts of God, but do not worship them.  When you pray to them, they will prey on you until you perish.

Only in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, do you find the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul.  His Word alone endures forever and ever.

Contrast Him to the rulers of the nations, who lord it over their subjects and call themselves benefactors, even though they get all their wealth and power from the people.  King Jesus did not put on airs or vaunt Himself, but He emptied Himself in humility and laid down His life in love.

He gave Himself over to death and shed His precious Blood to atone for all your sins, to rob the devil of his power against you, to raise you up from death, and to give you life with God.  Christ did not save Himself, but He freely died to save you and all others, to forgive the sins of those who trespassed against Him, who betrayed and denied Him, who handed Him over and falsely accused Him, who beat and mocked and spit on Him, who stripped Him of His clothes and nailed Him to the Cross.  Not in desperation or denial, but in perfect faith and faithfulness He entrusted Himself to His God and Father, relying on Him to raise Him from death and the grave and to vindicate Him.

This innocent suffering and death of the Lord Jesus Christ, contrary to all appearances, is actually
the true divine Glory of God.  For His Glory is not found in what the world supposes to be good
and great and powerful, but in what this world considers useless and weak, impotent and foolish.

The Lord your God does not exercise His royal sovereignty by taxing you or taking things from you, but by giving all good things to you by grace.  So He does, not only for you, but for the world.  From princes to paupers, from presidents to peasants, whatever anybody has is by the charity of God.  Yet, all the stuff on earth will not save you, no matter how much you may have, but only Christ and the treasures of His Kingdom, which are yours by faith alone in the Gospel of His Cross and Resurrection.  For by and from His Sacrifice He gives to you His Righteousness and Life, His divine Sonship and His Name, His Body and His Blood, His heart and mind, and His Holy Spirit.

He saves you by the Passion of His great Love for you, which He bears and suffers unto death for the forgiveness of your sins.  He pours Himself out in order to fill you up with a prosperity and peace such as this world and its rulers neither know nor understand and cannot provide.

Because He is your Lord and King, your Savior and your God, He does teach you the fear of God.  He calls you to repentance where you are wrong, and He disciplines you to do what is good and right.  But in this, too, He exercises love for you, that you should learn how to live the divine life that is yours by His grace through faith in His Gospel.  He desires not your hurt but your salvation.

He calls you to weep for yourself and for the legacy of your sins, but to find your joy and gladness in His mercy.  He calls you to take up His Cross and follow Him in the hope of His Resurrection.

When He wounds you, it is to heal you by turning you away from your dead and deadly idols back to Himself, the true and living God who is alone the Author and Giver of Life.  When He puts you to death for your sins, it is to put sin to death in you, to raise you up and give you life by His free forgiveness of your sins.  So does He preserve you in His Word and strengthen your faith in Him.

And bear in mind that, despite how it feels to your flesh, this dying and rising of repentance and faith is a participation in the Image and Likeness of God.  Do not lose sight of this important fact, that everything He works in you for your good — as He deals with you in gentle compassion and according to the divine justice of His Love — He has first of all accomplished for you in Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He has borne your sin in His Body.  He has suffered your death in His Body.  And He is risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in His Body of flesh and blood like your own.

It is for this purpose that He has gone up to Jerusalem, and for this great salvation of sinners like yourself that He was lifted up in death upon the Cross.  It is the Will of God that He achieved and the Kingdom of God that He has established on earth as it is in heaven; for He bore the sins of the world as the Lamb of God, and He sacrificed Himself in the humble obedience of faith and love.  He is the One who was wounded in order to heal you.  He is the One who was put to death in order to give you life.  He is the One who has atoned for your sins and reconciled you to His Father.

He numbered Himself with transgressors.  He took His place with sinners from His Baptism to His Cross; He suffered and died in their stead.  And He humbled Himself in this way in order to cover your shame with His honor, to glorify you in Himself.  For His faithful obedience is reckoned unto you as righteousness, so that in His Resurrection and Ascension you are highly exalted by God.  As in your Holy Baptism, so also by His Holy Absolution and with His gracious Benediction, you are named with His great Name.  By His Ministry of the Gospel you are vindicated of your faults.

The Cross that He has laid upon your heart, mind, and spirit, on your body and your soul, is not only for repentance and discipline, but also for the daily and ongoing forgiveness of your sins, for your protection against Satan, all his works and all his ways, and for your Life and Salvation with Christ in God.  Through the blest baptismal waters you follow the Lord Jesus up to Jerusalem, and you pass through His death and grave into the Most Holy Place, eternal in the heavens, where you eat and drink the Passover Feast of God.  So does that man with the pitcher of water lead you to the Upper Room for that great Supper, the neverending Banquet of the Lamb in His Kingdom.

Here then, at His Altar, bend your knee at the Name of Jesus Christ, and confess to the glory of His God and Father that He who feeds you with His Body and His Blood is your Lord.  Worship Him with all that you are and have, not only in your heart and mind, but also with your body.  Not as though you must appease any wrath in Him or curry His favor, but rather in love, with thanks and praise, in faith, and with deep reverence, because He is the Lord your God in the flesh, your Savior from death, who freely and fully forgives you all of your sins.  He is the One who gives you life.

Offer Him the sacrifice of thanksgiving, because He gives you all good things by grace, and there is nothing else for you to do but return thanks unto Him.  He does not require that you sacrifice your flesh or pour out your blood.  On the contrary, He who is the one true God in the flesh does this for you.  He gives you His Body to eat, the Fat Portion of His Sacrifice for you.  And He pours out His Blood for you to drink, the Choice Wine of His sacred Libation.  How could He honor you more than He does?  For He is with you as the One who serves here at His Table.  He remembers you here in His Kingdom, and He gives you a place here with Himself in His Paradise on earth.

That is the heart, mind, and spirit of Christ, that you should find peace and rest in Him forever.

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

18 March 2016

Purified for the True Passover of Christ

The Son of God from all eternity has been conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the fullness of time, so that as true God in the flesh He should bear you sin and be your Savior.  He has come down from the Father in heaven to fulfill the Word and Will of God for your salvation by the sacrifice of His Body and the shedding of His holy, precious Blood upon the Cross.

In anticipation of this great salvation that He accomplishes by His Cross, He manifests in advance the New Creation of His Resurrection by healing the sick, making the lame to walk, opening the eyes of the blind, and even raising the dead, such as Lazarus.  Sweet “injuries,” indeed!

But like the chief priests and pharisees then, you would rather Jesus die than to give up your own self-chosen way of life; because you fear man more than God, and you love the praises of men more than God.  You fear losing your place and position here on earth more than you fear losing your Savior and Redeemer.  You fear giving up your plans and the pursuit of your hopes and dreams, more than you love the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away your sins.

So do you persist in your sins, in your plots and machinations.  And so do you put Him to death, if not by nailing Him to the Cross, then by refusing to embrace His Cross and Passion in your life.

But now, fear the Lord your God, and repent of your sins and self-promotion!

Recognize the Lord as He comes to you in the flesh.  Receive Him by faith, and revere Him with your body and soul, lest He cease to walk among you and leave you lost and helpless without Him.

He does not abide forever with the self-righteous.  He comes to call sinners to repentance, to turn them from their sins to faith and discipleship, and to give them life by His forgiveness of sins.  So does He call you to cast away the works of darkness and to live in the Light of His Holy Gospel.

Your life does not consist in your own works and efforts, nor in your own position and power, no matter how greatly you prize these idols in your life and derive such pleasure from them.  They will perish, and you along with them, before too long.  You cannot purify yourself, and all your own sacrifices cannot make you worthy to partake of the Passover, in which true life is actually found.

Rather, it is the One who has died in your place to atone for your transgressions, who has also risen from the dead for your justification and reconciliation with God, who sanctifies you by His grace alone through His Word of the Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins, and gives you His own Life.

His death was not the work or accomplishment of sinful man.  It was the good and gracious will of God for the salvation of sinners, yourself included, which He has accomplished in the Hour and by the way of His own choosing.  No one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down willingly.

And having done so — having been handed over by His Father to the voluntary suffering and death of His Cross, and having taken up His Life again by the Spirit of His Father — He now distributes the Fruits of His Cross in the world.

By the Ministry of His Gospel, He causes His Word to be preached to the ends of the earth.  And by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, by the catechesis of His Word, and by the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit in Holy Baptism, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies disciples from all nations.  He brings them into His Church as the beloved children of God in Himself.  He purifies and protects them by His Blood, and He feeds them with His flesh.

So has He called you here to Himself in love.  So has He enlightened you by His Word and Spirit, and sanctified you by the grace of His Gospel.  And so does He raise you up from death to life, day after day, week after week, year after year, through His forgiveness of your sins.

Not only does He welcome and receive you to Himself in mercy, but He seats you at His Table as a guest of honor in His House.  He who is both God and Man is present for you at this Altar in the true Passover Feast of His New Testament, that you might worship Him by faith in His Word and receive Him to yourself, into your body of flesh and blood, unto the life everlasting.

Seek the Lord where He is found, which is here in the Temple of His Church on earth.  Be cleansed and forgiven by His Body and His Blood, that you should not perish but live forever in Him.

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

16 March 2016

The Family of God Lives by Forgiveness of Sins

You cannot separate your life with God and where you stand before Him from the life that you live in relation to His other children, who are your brothers and sisters in Christ within the household and family of faith.  Nowhere is that more clear and basic than it is with the forgiveness of sins.

The Lord has clearly taught you that connection in the Fifth Petition of the Our Father, by which you pray for the forgiveness of your sins and you promise to forgive those who sin against you.

By the same token, there are two main temptations or stumbling blocks that Satan sets before you to destroy your relationship with the Lord your God and with the family of your Father in heaven.

On the one hand, there is the temptation to sin against the Word of God, whether by doing what He has forbidden or by failing to do what He has commanded.  And you know that you daily fall into that trap in your heart and mind and in the ways that you invest your time and energies.  Yet, on the other hand, there is also the temptation to refuse and withhold forgiveness from those who have wronged you, whether by what they have done or by what they have failed to do.

Daily repentance requires that you cease from doing evil and that you begin to do what is right.  It also requires that you readily forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against you; and all the more so in the case of your brothers and sisters in Christ within the community and life of the Church.  But you learn how to live in this family of faith and forgiveness, not by instinct, intuition, or personal insight, but from your Father in heaven, who has made you His own dear child and brought you to faith and life in Himself, in Christ Jesus, through the forgiveness of all your sins.

The Lord your God has called you to faith by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And in His gracious gift of Holy Baptism He has cleansed you of all unrighteousness, poured out the Holy Spirit upon you, united you with Himself in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, and named you with His divine and holy Name.  Thus are you a child of God by His gracious adoption.  And this Baptism, too, is “for the forgiveness of sins.”  That is the deep well from which all its gifts and benefits spring forth and flow for you.  Likewise, in the Holy Communion, the Lord Jesus gives you His Body to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink for the forgiveness of all your sins.

The forgiveness of sins — at the heart of the Our Father and at the center of the Holy Gospel — is the life-breath of the Church.  She breathes forgiveness in and out in preaching and in prayer.

Indeed, everything in the life of the Church on earth has been established and arranged for the daily forgiveness of sins unto faith and life with God in Christ.  That really is what it’s all about, and there is nothing else in all of creation more important than that.  It truly is heaven on earth.

The forgiveness of sins is what defines and characterizes the household and family of God.  It is the defining center of the Gospel, which gives Life to the whole Church and to all her members.

This same Gospel is also what Confession and Holy Absolution is all about, that is, the free and full forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake, unto eternal life with God.  That is how this Fifth Chief Part of the Small Catechism — and of the Christian faith and life — should be understood and thought about and practiced.  It is a means of grace and forgiveness from your dear Savior, Jesus Christ.

The “Office of the Keys and Confession” is most appropriately described and summarized by its most important aspect, namely, “Holy Absolution.”  Everything is done for the sake of Absolution, that is, forgiveness which the pastor speaks in Jesus’ Name.  Everything else aims at that Word.

Indeed, the entire Office of the Holy Ministry is centered in the absolving of sinners, “in order to fulfill God’s will,” as the rite of Individual Confession and Absolution confesses and requests.

The work of the Holy Ministry and the life of the Holy Church are both found most clearly in the Keys of forgiveness.  That is revealed in the Word and promise of Christ to St. Peter the Apostle (in St. Matthew 16), and in His Word concerning the apostolic Church (here in St. Matthew 18).  The Ministry of the Gospel is the forgiving of sins.  The Church that lives from that Gospel is, therefore, continuously forgiven and constantly forgiving in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In this way, the confession of sins and the receiving of Holy Absolution are also a training ground and exercise for the Christian faith and life.  That is to say, it is the active practice of repentance and of reconciliation with God and the neighbor through faith in the Lord’s forgiveness of sins.

In this respect, as Dr. Luther also recognized and taught, the practice of Confession and Absolution is one significant way of remembering and returning to the meaning, gifts, and benefits of Holy Baptism.  Not that your Baptism has failed, but that you lay hold of it by this use of God’s Word.  By confessing your sins according to His Law, and by asking for the Absolution of His Gospel, you look to the hills of Zion, that is, the Holy Church, wherein the Lord’s help comes to you.  And by His Word of Holy Absolution the Lord guards your going out and your coming in, from that speaking of forgiveness unto eternal life, just as He named you with His Name in Holy Baptism.

This return to the significance of Holy Baptism is necessary, because stumbling stones, scandals, and sins are inevitable in this mortal life in a fallen world, in which Satan is always on the prowl.  The fact that sin continues to happen does not excuse it, but calls for you as a Christian to deal with it righteously, that is, not by your own reason and strength, but by faith in the Word of God.

The Lord calls you and His entire family to confront and deal with sin seriously, by naming it for what it really is, and by addressing it with His real Gospel.  That is the only sure and certain way to guard yourself and your neighbor against the assaults and accusations of the devil.  For Satan will not only tempt you to sin, but then also haunt you with guilt and shame, whether with the Law or with his devious tricks and lies.  Satan holds your sins against you, even though God doesn’t.  And your conscience cannot cope with or survive the devil’s schemes except by the Word of the Gospel.  Not with a vague or abstract sense of God’s mercy, but with confident trust in His spoken Word of the Gospel, that is, the Word that God the Father speaks to you by His incarnate Son.

To this end, the practice of Confession and Absolution teaches you to examine yourself and your life according to the Ten Commandments; and to discipline your body and life, not only by curbing your bad behavior and fulfilling your duties, but also by confessing your sins and calling on the Name of the Lord.  As you sin in your thoughts, words, and deeds, not only with your heart and mind, but also with your eyes and lips and hands and feet, so by faith in the forgiveness of sins do you bring forth the fruits of repentance in the way that you live, in what you say and do.

Of course, it is not any fun or easy to confess your sins.  It’s far more enticing to pass around the embarrassments, faults, and failings of your neighbors than to own up to your own indiscretions, crimes, and misdemeanors.  What is more remarkable and rather strange, is how readily people will broadcast their sins on the internet, and yet remain shy about confessing their sins to their pastor.

I suspect that the latter trend is due in part to a false sense of control over what you choose to post on social media, and to an ungodly pride and boasting about your wrongdoing.  Whereas going to your pastor and confessing your sins to him in person is humbling and places you in a position of weakness and need.  Nowhere are you less in control and more dependent on the grace of God than on your knees before His Altar in Confession and Absolution.  Yet, right there by His Word of the Gospel spoken to you, the Lord raises you up and exalts you, gives you life and strengthens you.

The pain of confessing your sins — which is costly and hard, I acknowledge, because it is a slaying of your sinful flesh, a pouring out of your sinful life, and a sacrificing of your old Adam on the Altar of the Cross — is not sorrow for its own sake, but for the joy and comfort of genuine peace and new life in the forgiveness of your sins; lest your sins continue to control and consume you.

It is also for that joy and comfort of the Gospel that Individual Confession and Holy Absolution is such a profound and personal means of God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ Jesus.  Although your pastor sorrows with you in the confession of your sins, and he too may shed tears of anguish for the hurt that you have borne or caused with your transgressions, it is then with great joy and gladness that he is also able to administer the real rescue and remedy of the Lord’s Absolution.

In this way, your pastor is able to shepherd you with the grace of the Good Shepherd, Christ Jesus.

Confession and Absolution likewise teaches you and trains you — not so much intellectually, but experientially — to have a pastoral heart for your neighbor, and to deal gently and compassionately with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  In confessing and being forgiven all of your sins, you learn not only how to sympathize and to be patient, but also how to respond with the Gospel as you deal with the neighbor who sins against you.  In faith and forgiveness, in humility and love, you learn to know the goal of God, which is to rescue the lost and to give His Life to all by grace.

Instead of harboring ill-will, resentment, anger, or bitterness in your heart and mind against the neighbor who has hurt you, and instead of speaking ill about your neighbor to others, you seek out your neighbor to be reconciled to him through mutual repentance and forgiveness of sins.  Or, if the offense does not warrant such effort, then, by all means, bear with it in love and overlook it!

Confessing your own sins, and relying on the Lord’s Absolution of your own sins, is precisely the way and the means by which to remove the log from your own eye, before you attempt to get the tiny splinter out of your neighbor’s eye.  And when your eye has been cleared up and focused by the forgiveness of sins, then you will know how best to help and serve your neighbor, namely, by forgiving his trespasses against you, just as you are freely forgiven by your Father in Christ Jesus.

It is not only within the broad household and family of God that Holy Absolution teaches you and trains you to live by faith in peace with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  It does so also within your own household and family — with your parents, spouse, and children; with your siblings; and with all your friends and neighbors in this life on earth.  Holy Absolution catechizes you to follow the path of repentance and reconciliation in all of your relationships: at home, at school, at work. Knowing your own sins, yet living by faith in the Gospel, you are both forgiven and forgiving.

The practice of Confession and Holy Absolution is able to do all these things and contribute all these benefits — not as your own hard work, sacrifice, suffering, discipline, or accomplishment — but because it is done and accomplished by the Word of God, His Law and His Gospel.

It is the Word of the Lord that examines you, exposes your sin, and calls you to contrition and repentance.  Even this work of His Law is due to His tender mercy and steadfast love for you, that you should be turned away from sin and death and called back to Him in peace by the Holy Gospel.  For it is by His Word of the Gospel, in particular, that He freely and fully forgives you all your sins, and restores you to the fellowship of His family, and therein gives you life and health and peace, in body and soul, in heart, mind, and spirit, unto the resurrection and the life everlasting.

In truth, Holy Absolution is that Gospel “in a nutshell.”  For it is the pastoral care of Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd Himself, who bears the burden of your sin, and who bears you in His Body.  It is in Him that you are reconciled to God and to each other; that His God and Father is your God and Father; and that all of His children are your own dear brothers and sisters, now and forever.

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

13 March 2016

By His Anguish in the Vineyard

So, what portion of His Vineyard has the Lord entrusted to your care and keeping?  How would He have you tend it?  And what are the fruits that He would gather and receive from your hand?

Give attention to those duties of your calling, in thanksgiving to the Lord your God for all His grace and loving kindness.  And do not reject or wound His servants, whom He sends to you in His long-suffering patience in order to care for you with His Word and to bring forth the fruits of faith and love in you by His preaching of repentance and forgiveness.

And do not despise or destroy the beloved Son, though He comes to you in frailty and weakness by the way and means of His Cross and Passion.  Rather, count all your pride and prizes, all the world and everything in it, as nothing but refuse, that you should know and love Christ Jesus and the power of His Resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering.  Die to yourself and to your sins, in order to be conformed to His death and to attain to the resurrection of the dead in Him.

Be aware that nothing on earth is what it seems to your sinful eyes, heart, and mind.  For you are prone to call good evil, and to call evil good.  Thus do the deep waters drown you, and the desert destroys you with its heat.  And yet, this perishing world appears prosperous and promising to you, while the Cross seems only painful and impoverished, impotent and useless to your goals.

So it is that, in your selfish desperation to gain the world and avoid the Cross, you lay the Cross of your sin and death upon the Lord Jesus Christ.

But what do you suppose that you will achieve and accomplish by that strategy?  And what will the results actually be?

I tell you the truth, that when this Stone you have rejected falls on you, it will crush you into dust and scatter you to the four winds.  One way or the other, you will perish to yourself and to all your lofty aspirations.  For if you exalt yourself, you will be humbled by the Lord.

But now, then, do not stumble, and do not fall, but be broken by the Cross, crucified, dead, and buried to yourself, in order to be raised up from the dead with Christ, the beloved Son.  For when you are humbled in repentance, you are exalted by God to life in Him.

You see, again, that nothing is the way that it appears to be.

The Vineyard is not really yours, nor any portion of it.  Your place in life and all that you possess are a stewardship, a sacred trust of Another’s property.  Yet, the Owner of the Vineyard, the Lord your God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth, desires to give you all good things.

He is not driven by selfishness and greed, as you are, but solely by His own divine and holy Love.  Even in seeking fruits from you, He does not take, but He gives it to you all by grace.

The beloved Son has come, therefore, not to rob you or destroy you, but to hand Himself over to death, in order to redeem both the Vineyard and you, to give life to you and all His creatures.

Your strategy to grab and take and keep for yourself is disastrous.  It will not work but leads to your destruction.  But what you perceive to be a threat, is really a promise and a gift of God.

It is true that the Cross crushes and kills you.  But bear in mind that it has also crushed Christ into the dust of the earth; not because He was overcome and defeated, but because He gave Himself freely in love, in fulfillment of His Father’s good and gracious will for the salvation of the world.

Therefore, the soil, the dirt, and the whole Vineyard is cleansed and healed and renewed by His Blood.  That is what His Atonement is and does.  The Life of God is in His Blood, which He pours out for the life of the world.

So also is He risen from the dead, and all of Creation is made brand new in His Resurrection.  The Vineyard is fruitful with this crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.  His Body is the Firstfruits of a great harvest, which God brings forth to the glory of His Name and for the benefit of the nations.

His rejection by men is God’s laying of the Cornerstone, upon which He establishes the Temple of His Body, the beautiful walls of His true Jerusalem, and the Paradise of His Promised Land.  This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous indeed, as the eyes of faith perceive in the preaching of the Gospel of Christ.  For the Redemption of His Cross, the Righteousness of His Resurrection, and the reconciliation of God and man in His Body, constitute the sure foundation of His Church and the vitality of His Vineyard, wherein you live and thrive by faith in His forgiveness of sins.

This work of the beloved Son, crucified and risen from the dead, is the Way that God the Lord has made for you through the deep waters and the raging flood.  His Body is the fountain and source of the life-giving Water that He provides for you in the desert.  His Word is your Highway, and the Holy Spirit whom God the Father pours out generously upon you through Jesus Christ your Savior is the River of Life that sustains you through the wilderness all the way into Canaan.

Which is why everything else that you have ever prized or valued, good, bad, or otherwise — all your treasures, best efforts, righteous deeds, crafty plans, and whatever else you have lived for — is all gladly given up and let go for the sake of Christ Jesus.

But what does that mean for you?  Not a big garage sale.  Not that you must liquidate your stuff and live in deliberate poverty.  But that you do have a brand new heart and mind, a new attitude and spirit, and a new way of tending and caring for the Vineyard.

Whatever you have, whatever stewardship you are given, use it in love for your neighbor.  And in all that you do, offer up the fruits of praise, the sacrifice of thanksgiving to your God and Father in heaven.  Live and rejoice before Him in Christ, come hell or high water against you.  Persist in prayer, and bear the Cross in patience and peace, by the grace and power of His Holy Spirit.

Beloved of God, lay hold of Christ Jesus by faith in His Gospel, in His means of grace, that is, His Word and Sacraments, no matter what that may cost or require of you.  For He alone is your life and salvation.  Suffer and die with Him, for His Name’s sake, that you may rise and live with Him.

That is to live as your Baptism indicates.  It is to bear the fruits of Christ and His Cross, even as you partake of His Body and Blood, the Fruits of His Cross and Passion in the Holy Communion.

Press on toward the goal, which is life in Christ.  Not by your own righteousness and efforts, far less by your sins, but by His grace alone, through faith in His free and full forgiveness of your sins.

How shall you pursue that goal?  How do you press forward, onward, and upward?  By hearing and heeding the Word of the Gospel, by repenting of your sins and receiving the Sacrament in faith, and by relying on your Lord, who draws near to serve you and help you through His servants.  As He has lived for you, even unto death, and as He ever lives to intercede for you before the throne of God in His Resurrection and Ascension, so does He live in you by His Word and Holy Spirit.

Lay hold of Him here, therefore, as He lays hold of you in love, in mercy and compassion.

You are not cast away from His presence as you deserve, nor are you scattered like the dust.  For you are chosen by God in Christ Jesus, and you are called from death to life everlasting in Him.  Here are the Streams in the desert, which flow for you in peace.  And here are the Fruits of the true Vine, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Here at His Altar is the Chief Cornerstone upon which the Lord your God has built His Church, so that you may live.  Taste and see the way things truly are; that Christ is good, and He is yours.

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