29 June 2016

Safe and Sound in the House That Jesus Built

It’s all about Jesus, the Christ, the incarnate Son of God, crucified and risen in His own Body of flesh and blood.  Everything in heaven and on earth — whatever was, and is, and is to be — it all depends on Him: on Who He is, and on what He has done and continues to do for you and for all.

The Church, which is His own Body as well as His Holy Bride, is established — and she lives, on earth even now, as in heaven forever — because He has conquered death, defeated the devil, atoned for the sins of the whole world, reconciled all mankind to God, and ascended to the right hand of the Father as the true Man, the perfect Second Adam, for the salvation of all people.

So, now, the question is, Where is this Lord Jesus Christ?  Where and how does He do His thing?  Which is really also to ask, Where is the Church?  How and where does she live by the grace of God in Christ, her Savior?  And, to get downright personal about it, How is it that you live in and with Christ Jesus, within His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church?  For, if you would be saved, and if you are to live, it will be within the Body of Christ, within the House that Jesus built.

But, truth be told, you are no more able than Simon Peter and the other disciples (to say nothing of the rest of the people in their day) to recognize the Lord Jesus Christ for who He is.  You neither know nor do you understand what it means that He is both the Son of God and the Son of Man.  Nor are you able to come to Him.  Nor can you fear, love, and trust in Him as your Savior and your God in the flesh — not at all by any wisdom, reason, strength, or savvy of your own.

And yet, you are here, and you do know Him and love Him, precisely because, and only because, the God and Father of this dear Lord Jesus Christ has given His Son both for you and now to you.  And by the gracious blessing of His Word and Holy Spirit, He reveals Him to you, and He opens your ears, your heart, and your mind to receive Him, to believe in Him, and to confess Him.

It is by this grace of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that you recognize Jesus for who He is, and know Him rightly, and find your life in Him, though you could never do this for yourself.

It is for this reason and purpose that the Lord Jesus Christ, in the utterly foolish Wisdom of God,  has built His House upon the Rock.

A most unlikely Rock it is, to be sure, as one might expect from this most unlikely of Saviors!  So much so, that theologians and scholars throughout the Church’s history have managed to wrangle and fight over it, though the simple and straightforward Word of Jesus is not so hard if it is taken at face value and heard within its context in the light of His own explanation.

The Rock foundation of the Lord’s Church is surely not St. Peter’s personal faith, nor his person, both of which were more than a little wobbly and misguided at times, as we all know.

But it is, after all, the Lord Jesus who calls this man and names him “Peter,” the Rock, so let us not suppose that he has no part in the foundation that Christ lays for His Church on earth.  The Rock, as our Confessions explain, is the ministry of the confession that St. Peter makes, according to his office and vocation as an Apostle.  For this man is called, ordained, and commissioned to speak the Word of Christ the Crucified, and to bind and release sins in His Name and stead.

This is how the one Lord Jesus Christ chooses to be present with and for His people.  This is how He works and does His thing, according to the good and gracious will of God, in order to rescue sinners from death and to give them eternal life in body and soul by His Cross and Resurrection.

It is upon this apostolic Ministry of the Gospel — the preaching of the Word of Christ unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins — that He establishes and builds His Church on earth, and that He protects her from the storms of life, from all the winds and waves of this world, both real and metaphorical, and from sin, death, the devil, and hell, even to the close of the age.

Although it is by now very familiar to you, and therefore seems quite normal and ordinary, let us admit again that the Ministry of the Gospel is a most unlikely foundation, even as it is formed and shaped on a most unlikely Cornerstone — that Stone which the builders rejected, although He is chosen by God and precious to Him.  His Apostles and Prophets, His pastors and teachers, His whole Church, and all His members are likewise despised by the devil, the world, and fallen flesh.

Consider, for example, those two foremost Apostles whom we remember with thanksgiving on this day: One of them a hotheaded fisherman, and the other a persecuting Pharisee of Pharisees.  But neither of these men, fallible and flawed though they were, is any more scandalous than the Cross they were called and sent to proclaim as the power of God unto salvation.  In fact, His power is made perfect in such weakness, beginning with His own voluntary weakness on the Cross.

Be encouraged, then, in your own office and stations in life, in your own calling as a Christian in this fallen world.  And take heart that, as the Lord has established and built up His Church, as He has planted, watered, and grown His Kingdom, even to the ends of the earth, by the way and means of men like Simon Peter and Saul of Tarsus, so does He work through you and accomplish His purposes in you, in spite of your faults and failings.  Do your job and carry out your duties with joy and confidence that your labors in the Lord are not in vain.  And do not be ashamed to confess the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, in all that you say and do.

For it is by the Cross that this incarnate God, conceived and born of Mary, has defeated death and the grave, such that even those gates of Hades have no power over anyone who belongs to Him, who lives by His grace, through faith in His Word, within His Church, His House upon the Rock.

For this Church of Christ — the very Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven — is established and sustained by His Ministry of the Gospel, which is fundamentally the Ministry of forgiveness, of Holy Absolution in His Name and stead.  The Office of the Keys and the Office of the Ministry go together, hand in glove, so that everything is said and done, finally, for the sake of forgiveness.

It is for the forgiveness of sins, by and from the Cross of Christ, that the entire Church on earth has been structured and arranged.  Forgiveness is the foundation and the front door of God’s House in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  It is the very air that we breathe in the living room of His House and Home, where the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the children of God by and with and for the proclamation of the Holy Gospel.  And it is found in abundance at the Father’s Table, around which His Household and Family are gathered for the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, given and poured out for you and for the many.

It is by and with this forgiveness of all your sins — both given and received in such bodily ways and means for both your body and your soul — that death and damnation, the devil, and hell are rendered powerless against you.  Such wicked foes may rage and roar, but they cannot harm you.

Though your body grows weak and perishes — whether through infirmity or illness, accident or active violence, even as St. Peter and St. Paul were put to death for their faithful confession of the Lord Jesus Christ — yet shall your body be raised immortal and imperishable, like unto the risen and glorious Body of Christ, since you are forgiven in body and soul by His Gospel Ministry.

So also tonight, as the same Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God, crucified for your transgressions and risen from the dead for your justification, gives to you His own holy Body and precious Blood for the free and full forgiveness of all your sins, so are your life and salvation secured for you in heaven forever with Him.

Here is a strong foundation beneath your feet, four solid walls around you, and a secure roof above your head, which no enemy or army in all of creation shall be able to penetrate.  Here within the House that Jesus built, you are safe and sound, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

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

26 June 2016

The Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ

Here today in the Cross of Christ, and in His Body and His Blood, in His forgiveness of all of your sins, you know the Love of God.  You know the Love of Christ, both for His Father and for you.  And in the Cross and in the Sacrament, you behold the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ.  Not because you have turned toward Him, but because He has turned His Face toward you.

He has set His Face toward Jerusalem.  He has set His Face toward the Cross.  And He has thereby set Himself to bear your sin and your death, in order to save you from sin, death, and the devil.

In setting His Face toward Jerusalem, His eyes and His heart remain fixed upon His Father, that He should do the Will of His Father, and that He should thus bring you to the Father in Peace.  For having come down from the Father in heaven, and having descended even into the depths of your sin and death, He returns to the Father in heaven with you in tow.

He does it by the way of His Cross.  He is lifted up first of all in death, that in His victory over death He might rise and ascend to the right hand of God, and seat you there with Himself in the Kingdom of His Father, in the House and at the Table of the dear Father who loves you in Him.

He is taken up to God by the way of the Cross in human flesh like yours.  But He is Himself true God.  It is no angel who accomplishes your salvation, but God in the flesh.  For it is God who was conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And it is God who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, who suffered, and died, and was buried in a cave, a hole in the ground.  He made His bed in the dust of the earth, so that, in His rising from that bed of dust, He should raise you, a child of Adam, to be a child of the Living God, to breathe His Holy Spirit, to live and not die forever.

He sets His Face toward Jerusalem and toward the Cross, bearing sin and death in His own Body for the salvation of all mankind.  And so has He done it.  He has borne the weight of the world, and the weight of the world’s sin upon His back.  He has taken all your sin and death up into His own holy wounds.  He has shed His Blood for you, and with that Blood He has made Atonement for your sins.  He has redeemed you, lost and condemned creature that you were.  He has reconciled you to God.  He has established peace for you.  He has saved you by His Cross, and He would save you still.  He would save you this day by His Word and the preaching of the Cross.

As you are His disciple — as you are baptized into Christ and taught by His Word, and as your ears are blessed to hear and receive the very Word of Christ — so take up His Cross, and follow Him.  For it is also by way of His Cross that you ascend to the God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ.  It is by the way of His Cross that you enter the Kingdom of God.

You bear the Cross, not as though to redeem your own life, nor as though to make amends, to reconcile God, or to atone for your sins.  You could do none of this, but neither is it necessary.

You bear the Cross as a blessed communion with Christ Jesus, the very Son of God, who is your Savior and Redeemer, who has atoned for all your sins, and who has reconciled you to God.  You bear His Cross, that you might be united with Him in His death, and in His Resurrection, and in His Ascension.  You bear His Cross, in order that you might know God — not according to His wrath, as you deserve, but according to His mercy, to the praise of His glorious grace.

It is something the world cannot understand.  It is something your old Adam cannot understand.  It is something that even the Prophet Elijah could not understand, until He was taught by the Lord.  Nor the Apostles, James and John, those sons of thunder, who would have called down fire from heaven against the Samaritans, because the disciples did not yet know the Way of God in Christ, which is the Way of His own Cross and Sacrifice for the forgiveness, life, and salvation of sinners.

It is by the Cross that you know God rightly, as He truly is.  It is by the Cross that you know Him, as you are known by Him who loves you, who did not spare His only Son but opened up His heart and gave Him for us all.  Who opens up His heart and gives Himself to you right here and now.

If you would know God, then you must know Christ Jesus, the Son of God from all eternity, the Son of Mary, the Son of Man.  The Champion of Mankind.  The One who is not ashamed to call poor, miserable sinners His brethren.  The One who is not ashamed to know and love you.

To know Christ Jesus is to know His Cross.  That is where you know the Love of God, which constitutes His very Being.  That is where you know His strength — in His great weakness, even unto death, which was not thrust upon Him, nor forced upon Him, but was laid upon Him in love by His Father, and He willingly took upon Himself in love for His Father and for you.

To know God is to know this Christ, the Crucified One, who by His death destroyed your death.  Who by His bleeding and dying paid for your sins, suffered your punishment, and made Peace where there was no peace.  His Cross is the Victory, which is yours by grace through faith in Him.

To know the Cross of Christ is also to know your own death and resurrection.  Not as punishment, but as putting to death the lies of the devil in you heart, mind, and soul.  When you know suffering and pain and sadness and disappointment in your life, do not conclude that God hates you.  Do not suppose that He has turned Himself away from you, nor that He is turning you away from Him.  Do not suppose that He is punishing you, although He may, indeed, be disciplining you in your body and life, in your words and actions, as a father disciplines the son whom he loves.

Do not suppose anything.  But hear the Word of Christ.  Believe the Word of His Cross.  Know the power of His Resurrection and the grace of His indestructible Life, which He has established for you and for all in His own crucified and risen Body.  Know that to be true.  And knowing His Cross, know your own death in Him.  Know it as a discipline and catechesis from the Father who loves you, and from the great Good Shepherd who shepherds you, the perfect Teacher who teaches and trains you, who goes with you all the way and is your very present Help in time of need.

The Son of Man has not come to destroy your life, but to save you, and to give you life.  His Cross upon you is not punishment, but it is repentance, which He has accomplished for you in Himself, and which He works in you by His Word and Holy Spirit, unto faith in His forgiveness of sins.  For by the Cross He calls you away from yourself and your sins.  He puts you to death.  He buries your father alright, that old Adam who lives in you.  He does not leave you to do it, for you could not.  You could not kill that old Man.  You could not bury that old father.  And no matter how you tried, you could not flee.  No matter where you went, you could not escape his haunting presence.

When you look at your flesh, you see sin, and you see death.  When you examine your heart, you know your wretchedness.  When you are honest with your thoughts, you know how perverse and pathetic they are.  Whether it be lust, or jealousy, or anger, or greed, or pride — you could not bury your father.  But Christ, by His death, has buried your old Man with all your evil lusts and desires.

Christ therefore calls you to put yourself to death by the way and means of His Cross. To detach your heart and life, your body and soul, from your allegiance and attachment to this world, to its idols, and to all of its familiar comforts.  To leave behind everything you have loved and relied upon, in order to follow Him alone; to fear, love, and trust in Him alone as your true and only God in the flesh, in His Cross and Resurrection, in His Gospel–Word and Sacraments.  To lean not on yourself, nor on your own wisdom, reason, or strength, but solely on His Word and Spirit.

He calls you to put yourself to death — not by suicide, which is a sinful exercise of unbelief, but by the Cross, that is, by repentance for your sins, and by faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.

But understand that He calls not only your sins to die, but all of you, beginning with the best and proudest parts of you.  He calls you to put yourself to death, even to your family and friends, to your house and home, and to your occupations and outstanding achievements.  Not by murder and destruction — God forbid! — but by an adamant refusal to worship any other God than the God and Father of your crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. So would He have you die to all that you depend on in yourself, not least of all your own attempts at piety and reverence.  Not only your filthy rags, but all of your very best righteousness, and everything you worship in yourself.

When He calls you to take up the Cross and follow Him, He would put all of you to death.  He would undo you entirely and bury you to the world.  And that certainly can feel like a punishment, that is to say, as retribution for your sins, a pound of flesh and vengeance for your wrongdoing.  But He lays the Cross upon you and puts you to death in this way, so that you would henceforth have your life always and only in Him.  That you would not search yourself for life and light and love, which are not there, but that you would behold the Face of God the Father in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, and know Him rightly by knowing His mercy, and His forgiveness, and His life.

Let go of the past.  Not simply the regrets, but all of the idols and false gods you are so proud of!  Remember Lot’s wife, and do not look back to that which is behind you.  There is only death to be found back there in that.  There is only sin to be found in your flesh and its accomplishments.

Do not be bitter, then, about the Cross that is laid upon you now in Christ, your Savior.  For the Cross has been His work for you.  He has redeemed you with His innocent suffering and death, and with His holy and precious Blood.  Such a costly price He paid for you who are so valuable to Him.

There is no longer any sin to be atoned for.  There is no more curse yet to be undone.  Even the last great enemy, death, is forced to serve Christ until it, too, shall finally be put away forevermore.

You are set free.  For freedom, Christ has set you free.  You are free to love your God and Father in heaven, to love your Lord Jesus Christ, and to love your neighbors, your family and friends, and even your enemies, in and with the mercies of God, your Savior.  You are free to live and to love in this way, because your life is no longer a contest or a competition.

There is no contingency on you or on your life.  There is no condition to be met or achieved.  You are loved by God.  You are saved by Christ.  The One who calls you to follow Him has already blazed the trail for you; He has passed through the valley of the shadow of death on your behalf.

He has set His shoulder to the plow.  And He has not looked back.  He has taken it upon His broad shoulders, and He has not set it down.  He has plowed the earth with His Cross, sowed it with His flesh, and fertilized it with His blood.  He has buried Himself in the ground, and He has risen from death and the grave, and has ascended to the right hand of the Father.  In His Body, you have life.

Foxes have holes.  Birds of the air have nests.  But the Son of Man, your Savior, had no place to lay His head, except upon the wood of His Cross, and then upon the stone of His borrow tomb.  Yet, by His death and burial, He has made of that hole in the ground, of that cave, a place of Sabbath Rest for you and all His saints.

Do you hear the gentle blowing at the mouth of that cave?  It is the gentle voice of the Gospel.  It is the Life-giving breath of Holy Absolution.  It is the preaching of the Spirit, who speaks Christ.  It is the forgiveness of all your sins.  It is the Voice of the risen Lord Jesus, who called Lazarus from the grave, and who now calls you also by name to Himself: “Dear little lamb, follow Me.”

He has made a nest for you.  You know that He loves the sparrows.  You know that He provides a home for the swallows, a nest in the Altars of God.  You know that He feeds the young ravens when they do cry.  But He loves you a whole lot more than any of these birds of the air!  And as He has given you Sabbath Rest by His own rest in the tomb, so has He also made a nest for you, little bird, right here at the Altar of God, where He feeds you with His own Body and His Blood.

Here there is safety.  Here there is Peace.  Here is your home and your family.  Here is where the heart of God is opened to you in love.  For here is where the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God is turned toward you in the Face of Jesus Christ, your Savior, in His Word and in His Flesh.

Lift up your heart, beloved of God, and set your face on Christ, for He shall not turn you away.

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

24 June 2016

The Mouth of the Lord Has Spoken

Zacharias has been catechized, and he has learned to believe and confess the Word of the Lord: concerning things only barely unfolding, and concerning things not yet seen.  In the confidence and certainty of faith, he confesses these things as already accomplished before God in heaven.

After ten months of silence — which were the sign and the discipline given to Zacharaias when he doubted the Word of the Archangel Gabriel — now, in retrospect, when that Word concerning a son born to him and his formerly barren old wife, Elizabeth, has been fulfilled — he confesses the grace of God by naming his son “John,” according to the Word that he received from the Lord through the Angel.  And with that confession of God’s Word — by that very Word, and by the Spirit of God at work through that very Word — his lips are opened, and his tongue is set free, so that he speaks rightly and well, and his mouth shows forth the praises of God.

Though the occasion is the nativity and circumcision of his own son, John, he first of all gives thanks for the Infant Jesus, the Horn of Salvation that God has raised up in the House of His Servant David.  Zacharias gives thanks for the Infant Lord Jesus, who is there present in the womb of His Mother Mary, and for the Redemption and Salvation which are in the same Christ Jesus.

Everything is always about Jesus.  Everything from start to finish is centered in Him, the Lamb of God.  And everything else derives its meaning and significance from Him.  That is true of your life, as well.  It is true of your body and soul, your eyes and ears, your reason, and all your members.  It is true of your vocation, and your stations in life, your job, and your family.

It’s all about Jesus.  It all depends on Him and finds it real value and true purpose in Him, in His Body crucified and risen from the dead.  And in all things, in all that you do and say, you are called to confess Him and His Holy Name, which you also bear and carry by your Baptism into Him.

So also is it true in the case of St. John the Baptist, in a special and particular way, that everything is all about Jesus.  His whole life points to Jesus, already from the womb.  Remember how, when St. Mary first came to the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth, as soon as her greeting reached the ears of her relative, Elizabeth, even then baby John, in the womb of his mother, leaped for joy at the presence of his Savior.

St. John’s whole life points to Jesus.  So do his nativity and circumcision point to the coming Nativity and Circumcision of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Likewise, his life in the desert wilderness, his preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and finally his martyrdom, his beheading — it all points to Jesus, to His Cross, to His Atonement, to His forgiveness of sins, and to His free gift of Life and Salvation in His flesh and blood.

St. John’s whole body and life are about Christ Jesus, but his mouth, in particular, is the focal point: The mouth with which he speaks the Word of God, as the Lord’s Voice in the wilderness, whereby St. John’s mouth is actually the Mouth of the Lord, which has spoken salvation in Christ.

As his father Zacharias’ mouth is opened by the gracious Word and promise of the Lord, so will St. John’s mouth also pray, praise, confess, and prophecy: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”  “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

It is precisely by that Word spoken by St. John, by that preaching, by that mouth and voice, that St. John the Forerunner, the Lord’s Messenger, goes before the Lord Jesus and prepares His Way.

This is how God speaks, also now to you, by the mouth and preaching of His servants.  And it is by His speaking that God works and does all that He has promised.

He speaks both Law and Gospel.  He instructs you in the way that you should go.  He calls you to live within your own place in life, trusting that He will also provide the necessary means by which to carry out the work that He has given you to do.

He lowers your mountains and raises your valleys, so that both your pride and your despair are done away with and removed.  He smooths your rough places, and He straightens what is crooked in your life.  He calls you daily to repentance, to die to your sins, and to live unto righteousness by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been crucified and is risen from the dead for you and all.

By the mouth of His servants, the same Lord speaks forgiveness, salvation, and Peace into your ears, into your body and life, unto the life everlasting.  Just think of that.  He speaks and bestows real Peace for your troubled heart and your troubled mind and your troubled life on earth.

God speaks Peace, and His Mouth, His Voice, and His Word do what He says, what He speaks.  For by and with that speaking, the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of the Father, visits you with His Redemption, even while yet hidden in the womb of His Mother.

He speaks to your heart, tenderly, and by that preaching the Holy Spirit lays Christ Jesus on your heart to comfort you with His forgiveness of all your sins.

Have you done wrong? You are forgiven.  Have you spoken harshly? You are forgiven.  Have you been lazy? You are forgiven.  Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm? You are forgiven.  Have you failed to love? You are forgiven by the Love of God in Christ.

He speaks such comfort to you, daily and richly, through the Gospel.  And by that Gospel He calls you to faith, and He lays you upon Christ Jesus, who is your Sabbath Rest.

Listen, therefore, to what the Mouth of the Lord speaks.  Listen to His Mouth, to your pastor and his preaching.  Listen with your ears, and listen with your heart and your mind, and listen with your whole body, soul, and spirit.

It is for the sake of such preaching and hearing that the Lord God formed your pastor’s mouth and your ears, even in the womb, before you were ever born.  And both mouth and ears are sanctified and consecrated for this purpose by the Word of the Lord that is spoken and heard in His Name.

It is not simply the word of man, but the Lord’s own Word on the lips and in the ears of His own people.  It is by and with His Word that He opens the preacher’s mouth to speak, and by and with His Word that He opens your ears to hear; and He opens your heart and mind to believe and trust; and He opens your mouth to pray, praise, confess, and sing.

You, no less than David, are a man or a woman after God’s own heart, when you are a man or a woman after God’s own mouth.  When you hear His Word, and pray and confess as He has taught you.  When you pray and confess, not only for yourself, but with and for your children, even from the womb; and with and for your spouse, your friends and neighbors; for your brothers and sisters, including your brothers and sisters in Christ; and for your pastor, that he also be upheld in Peace.

Do not suppose that such a Word, even upon your lips and from your mouth, is ever a pointless or powerless noise.  Do not suppose that, because you are not eloquent or confident, or as articulate as you would like to be, that you cannot speak the Word of the Lord, or by that Word bring comfort to your neighbor.  For it is the Voice of the Lord, the very Voice by which He rends the heavens and moves mountains; by which He wounds and heals, kills and makes alive; by which He gives life to all of creation; by which He forgives sins and rescues from death and the devil; by which He reveals Himself and His glory to all flesh; by which He cleanses your lips and does great things.

To be sure, you are not the Savior and Redeemer of God’s people.  You are not the Mother of God, as St. Mary was, nor the Forerunner of the Lord, as St. John was.  But you are a Christian, baptized into Christ Jesus, anointed by His Holy Spirit, and adopted by His Holy Father.

And, dearly beloved, you are spoken to by the Lord.  As your preacher is His Mouth, so do your ears become the cradle into which His Word is placed, that your heart, mind, and body might also receive and treasure Him.  And as you thus hear and receive the Word of the Lord, so do you also speak, and pray, and confess.  So do you praise, give thanks, and sing the New Song of Christ.

No, you are not the Savior and Redeemer.  Nor of yourself are you worthy even to untie His sandals; for He alone is able to redeem His people.  But by His grace you do speak His Word with His Voice.  And the same forgiveness, life, and salvation that are surely given to you and are yours by His Mouth of the Gospel, are given to your neighbor, also, by the Lord’s speaking through you.

So does the Lord, by the Voice of His preaching, come down from heaven and come to His Temple, and rise among us with tender mercy, the knowledge of salvation, and the way of peace.  So does He visit you here and now, and give you life, by the forgiveness of all your sins.  For the Mouth of the Lord has thus spoken, and so is it done.

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

19 June 2016

Who's Your Daddy?

So, who’s your Daddy?  Not simply the one who sired you, but who is it that gives you life and still takes care of it?  Who is it that names you and calls you by name?  Who is it that provides you with a house and home?  Not simply a building, or a room, or a bed to sleep on, but a place where you belong; a place of safety, peace and rest; a place of nourishment; a place of love.

Who is it that puts clothes on your body, so that you are not found naked or ashamed in the streets, but you are covered?  Who is it that shelters you from the winds and the rains, both real and metaphorical?  Who is it that guards and protects you from all evil?  Who is it that opens His hand to feed you, to satisfy your needs, and to strengthen your body and life?

And who is it that teaches you?  Who teaches you to listen and to think?  And who is it that teaches you to speak?  For that is one of the most important and fundamental things that a father does.  He teaches his children, his sons and his daughters, how to speak.  Not only to communicate, but to give yourself in love to your neighbor with your speaking and your words.  And above even this, to pray, and to confess.  To praise and glorify God, your Maker and Redeemer, who has also become your Father according to His mercy and love.

Surely it is the case that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has become your God and Father.  He has made you His own dear child by His gracious adoption, by the Word and Spirit of Christ, His Son.  So it is that He has taught you to pray to Him as your own dear Father.  And so it is that you receive all good things from His hand, all that you need to support this body and life, and the forgiveness of all your sins, unto the Life everlasting in Christ Jesus.

It is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who gives you life, who names you with His own Name, who has made you a part of His Family among the many brethren of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He provides you with a home within His Church, within His Kingdom, a place of peace and rest, of safety, and of great Love that has no end.

It is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has clothed you.  Not simply with fabric, but with Christ Himself, with His righteousness and holiness.  He has cleansed you from all of your sins.  And He feeds you, again with Christ Himself, with His Body and His Blood.  Thus do you abide in Christ, and Christ abides in you.

It is God who teaches you how to listen and how to speak by speaking to you.  The Father opens His mouth and speaks to you by His Son.  So does He open your ears, and He opens your mouth to pray, to praise and give thanks.  He teaches you to pray, and He teaches you to confess, to speak as the oracles of God.  Indeed, He has recreated you in Christ Jesus, in His Image and after His Likeness, to be His own, even here in the world under the Cross.

Christ the Lord has come to you in this foreign territory, in order to bring you home with Himself to the Father.  By the water, by the Boat of His Church, He has drawn near.  He has encountered you in Gentile territory, among the pagans.  Even among the tombs, He has come to you.

You did not ask for Him, but He has sought you out.  You did not seek Him, but He has allowed you to find Him, and He has found you.  All day long, from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, He spreads out His hands to you.  He comes to you, and He beckons you to Himself.

He forgives you all your sins with the authority of His Gospel.  For He has died, and He is risen.  He has atoned for the sins of the world.  He has atoned for all your sins; they are gone.  And as He was baptized, so has He baptized you.  Thus, all your sins and death are washed away.  Not just once upon a time, but as you have entered the waters of Holy Baptism, you live in those waters like a little fish of Jesus.  And all your sins are daily washed away by those living waters of Baptism.

Why, then, do you go about like a wild man?  Why are you so frantic?  Why are you driven into madness — by things that are forgiven, by things that people do to you, and by things outside of your control but not outside of your Father’s keeping?  Why is it that you are so out of your mind, when you have been given the mind of Christ and the Spirit of Christ?  Why do you shed the garment with which your Father has dressed you, and go about naked and unclothed?  Why is it that you live among the dead, and dwell among the tombs, and make your residence in graveyards, instead of dwelling in the House of the Lord where He has made a place for you?

It’s easy to tell that the man in this Gospel is crazy.  Insane.  Stark raving mad, and stark raving naked.  He hasn’t worn clothes for a very long time.  He doesn’t live in a home.  He makes his bed in the tombs.  A walking dead man.  A crazy man, possessed by many demons, and afraid of Jesus.

He’s not so different than you are.  For you have your own demons, visible and invisible.  You wear clothes, but how often do you feel yourself naked and exposed, before God and before your neighbor?  How often has it seemed as though a scarlet letter were written on your forehead, as though people could just look at you and see those things that you are so ashamed of?

You may not live in a graveyard.  Indeed, you may have a very nice home.  It may even be paid for, remodeled and decorated, safe and secure with adequate locks and a security system, and a manicured lawn, and a place for the children or grandchildren to play, on a nice street in a good neighborhood.  But if you put your trust in those things — which are perishing — then you also live among the tombs, and you reside in the vain monuments of this dead and dying world.

Such good things on earth are the gifts of your Father.  But they are His gifts; they are not your Father.  You dare not worship them as your gods.  They are part of the life your God and Father gives you, but they are not your life.  For life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.  And your true home is not of wood or brick, of glass or steel.  It is the Church, the Kingdom of God.  The Lord’s House, that is your place, where you belong, where your Father keeps you safe.

You may not be possessed.  If the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in your heart by the Gospel, and has laid Christ upon your heart by the Gospel, then you are not possessed by demons.  But do not suppose that the devil has given up and left you alone.  He’s foolish enough, and ferocious enough, and hateful enough, and murderous enough, to continue attacking you throughout your life on earth.  He speaks sometimes with fury, at other times with sweet words.  He tempts you to sin, and then stands first in line to accuse you.  And as the devil with his demons did with that poor man in this Gospel, he would drive you into the desert — away from the water, and away from Jesus.

Now, the Law would do its good work, according to the will of God.  It would serve as a tutor leading you to Christ, as St. Paul has written.  And understand that a tutor is not simply someone who helps you with your homework, and goes over the lesson with you, and helps you to prepare for a test.  A tutor in the ancient world was much more present than that.  The tutor would take you from your father’s house to the school where your father enrolled you.  He would make sure you sat at your desk and stayed for the lesson, and then bring you home at night.  He would discipline you as necessary with the authority of your father, in order to keep you on task.  He would not so much teach you himself, as he would make sure you went to school and listened to your teacher.

The Law is such a tutor.  It curbs you, and it guides you in the direction you should go.  It threatens you with a big stick, in order to force and compel you to that which you need, which your Father would have you hear and receive.  It commands you to love your neighbor, in order to love and protect your neighbor.  And it commands your neighbor to love and protect you.  But the Law also commands you to look to God, to look to Him for all good things, to listen to His Word, to call upon His Name, to pray, praise, and give thanks, to rest from your labors, and to be served by Christ.  The Law cannot accomplish any of these things for you, but it points you to the One who does.  The Law cannot forgive your sins, but it points you to the One who does forgive your sins.

The Law cannot bring you home, though it aims to restrain you from running further and further away.  For this reason, it has bound you, and yet you have broken its bonds.  It would chain you for your own safety and well being, but you have broken the shackles.

Therefore, Jesus comes to set things right.  And He is ferocious against your enemies.  He is your dread Champion in fighting the devil.  He has entered the fray, not simply to assist or stand at your side, but to take the lead, to bring down Goliath, to slay the dragon.  He sets you free from the unclean spirits that haunt you, by the cleansing Word of His Gospel.

The Lord Jesus speaks, and it is so, for all authority is His.  The demons hate Him, but they must listen to Him.  They beg Him to go away, but they know they cannot force Him.  They would go into the pigs, but they need His permission to do so.  They are not in charge.  And they are not the boss of you, either.  Not anymore.  For a stronger Man has come, and He binds the strong man who has held you captive.  And those chains with which He binds the devil will not be broken.

So, the Lord Jesus comes in love to save you.  But what, then, if you are still afraid of Him?

What if you are terrified, because you do not want to be found out?  You do not want everyone to look and see that you are so naked.  You would rather crawl back to the tombs and hide yourself away, and welcome even death, than to meet the One who comes to save you from death.

What if you are trapped by your addictions?  What if you are driven by temptations that constantly lead you back to the same sins over and over again?  What hope is there for you, if instead of swimming like a little fish in the waters of your Baptism, you wallow around in the muck and the mire and the mud like a pig?  Immoral.  Trashy.  Living for money.  Neglecting your vocations while chasing your passions.  Cursing your neighbors.  At enmity with your bothers and sisters, refusing to forgive them, and refusing to acknowledge or apologize for your own sins.

What if you are so driven by your desire for things which God has not given you, that you do not even attend to those things which He has entrusted to your care and stewardship?

What if your demons drive you away from the waters of your Baptism, so that you willingly wander into the territory of the devil and the night of sin and death?  Be warned that such a path, and such pursuits, will eventually drive faith and the Holy Spirit altogether out of your heart and soul, out of your body and life, and lead you finally into the abyss with the devil and his demons.

The Lord Jesus has come to save you.  But what if you run away from Him?  What if, instead of praying, you simply beg Him to leave and go away, because you are so afraid and so ashamed?

Even then, He would use the Law as your tutor, to bring you to the school of His Church, to the lesson of His Gospel, to the Life-giving Breath of His Holy Spirit in the forgiveness of your sins.

Consider what it means that He permits the demons to go into the pigs.  Why does He do that?  Why does He give the demons permission to do anything?  Why does He not send them straight to the abyss right away?

Beloved of the Lord, it is for the sake of His mercy and for your salvation that He does this strange thing.  For even the demons, death, and the devil must serve His purpose.  He permits the demons to afflict even you, whom He loves, so that by this means He would drive you back to the water.

If you live an unclean life, then do not be surprised that demons haunt you, and that the Law of the Lord pursues you.  But even then, understand that the Lord is at work, that He would drive you to the font, to be baptized, if you have not been, or to remember and return to the significance of your Holy Baptism.  He would drown and destroy the old Adam in you, with all your sinful lusts and desires.  He would put you to death.  To that extent, you are right in fearing that He has come to kill you.  For His Word is fierce, and among your enemies is your own sinful nature; your fallen flesh and idolatrous heart; your unclean spirit; and your own thoughts and feelings, which lie to you and deceive you.  He would put all of that to death, like those pigs, drowned in the water.

But remember that He has made Himself unclean with your sins and death.  Remember that He also has gone into the pigsty to rescue the Prodigal Son.  Remember that He has become sin and the curse, and guilt, and death, in order to redeem you, and to justify you with His Righteousness.  Remember that He also has been baptized, and by His Baptism into death He has made of those waters, not only a death-dealing flood, but a gracious water of Life.  For out of that tomb He has risen, and out of that tomb He raises you up with Himself to the Life everlasting in body and soul.

The Lord kills in order to make alive.  The devil promises life in order to kill, but Jesus comes to kill and make alive.  And He has been the first in line to die and rise again — for you and for all!

When He would permit even demons to torment you, He has not lost control, and He has not given up on you.  He does not turn His face away in anger.  All day long He stretches out His hand to a rebellious people.  All day long.  And in the night He does not sleep, so that you may rest in peace.

Return, therefore, to the waters of your Baptism.  Find again that right mind which is yours in Christ, so that you may think the things of God and not of sinful man.  Such things as these: Though your sins are many, they are forgiven.  Though you have sinned and gone astray, your Good Shepherd has brought you home, and He rejoices over you in love.  Though you have not loved the Lord as you should, and you have not loved your neighbor as yourself, your Father loves you still.  And though you have not prayed as you ought, He speaks to you in peace.  He clothes and covers you in Christ, His Son, so that you are not found naked and unclothed.

Your sins are forgiven.  Though you have been sinful and unclean, you are not a pig.  You are a child of God.  You are God’s own child, I gladly say it.  You are baptized into Christ.  And He who has named you, the Father who loves you, He shelters and protects you.  Though you have made your home among the dead, and dug your own grave, and made your bed in the dirt, your Father brings you into His House and Home, and here He feeds you well at the Table of His Son.

Who’s your Daddy?  The God and Father of your dear Lord Jesus Christ, He is your Daddy, who has taught you to pray and promises to answer.  For you are His, and He is yours, now and forever.

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

16 June 2016

Steadfast in His Word and Faith Until We Die

How the Head of the Household Teaches His Children to Pray and Confess

This is the Work of God

It is important to stress from the outset that God is our Father, and that He has made Christ Jesus the Head of His Household and Family, the Church.  He is the One who teaches His children to pray and confess, and He is the One who preserves them steadfast in this Word and Faith, even until death, according to His good and gracious will.

On the one hand, He breaks and hinders every evil will and purpose of the devil, the world, and our own fallen flesh, which do not want His Name to be hallowed or His Kingdom to come.  And on the other hand, He uses the ways and means of His good creation to accomplish His purposes.

Significantly, He uses pastors and parents to care for His children, to teach them His Word, and to preserve them in the Christian faith and life.  But He is not dependent on us.  Rather, we depend on Him.  He will in fact accomplish His purposes, with or without any of us, where and when it pleases Him.  We thus approach the task at hand with faith and confidence in His Word and work, neither lazy nor negligent, but encouraged that our labors in the Lord are not in vain.

Like Father, Like Son

We know and love the Father in Christ Jesus by His grace.  And by faith we become like our God and Father, also in Christ Jesus, in love and mercy for our neighbors, including our own children.

As Adam begat sons in his image and likeness — with respect to his sin and death, to be sure, but also with respect to his faith in the promise, at least in the case of Abel and Seth and his line — so does the Christ beget sons of God, in His Image and Likeness, by His Word and Holy Spirit.  Much as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself was conceived and born of St. Mary by the Word and Spirit of His Father, and in His own human flesh and blood He is the very Image and Likeness of God.

We who are born of Adam, inheritors of sin and death, are born again of water, Word, and Spirit as the children of God, forgiven all our sins and raised from death to life in the righteousness of Christ.  It is likewise by the Word and Spirit of Christ that we are instructed to live by faith in Him, and to live in love like His for the Father and for others.  This legacy that we have received from our Lord Jesus Christ is far and away the most important thing that we pass on to our children.

The Testing and Trying of Faith

The Lord clarifies, strengthens, and trains our faith by testing us, and by allowing us to be tempted and tried, thereby purifying us in body and soul, as gold and silver are purified by fire.  He does not tempt anyone to sin, but He does put us to the test in various ways, in order that we learn to fear, love, and trust in Him, to obey His Commandments, and to pray to Him at all times.

We have only to think of examples such as Adam & Eve, tested by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil, and tempted by the devil to doubt and disobey God’s Word concerning the Tree.  And Job, whose faith and righteousness were tried and tempted by Satan, in order to be clarified and proven by God in the hope and promise of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ — who was in turn also tempted, tried, and tested as our merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.

Abraham was tested by God when he was commanded to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved, as a confession of his faith in the Lord who had promised to bless him and all the nations through that same son.  And the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel were also tested in the wilderness, for the sake of repentance and the strengthening of their faith in the Word of God.

To cite one other example from the New Testament Scriptures, consider the Canaanite woman, who was tested and tried when she sought the healing of her demon possessed daughter.  The Lord Jesus was silent, apparently dismissive, and seemingly insulting to that woman, before fulfilling her request, in order that her strong faith be confessed and her persistence set forth as an example.

Establishing the Rhythm and Way of Life

The story arc of the Exodus from Egypt offers a paradigm and pattern of the way the Lord begets and bears His children, preserves them in His faith and life, and brings them home to Himself.

He calls His people (His Son) out of Egypt.  He rescues and saves them, and makes them His own, by sending Moses with His Word, by bringing them through the water with His Spirit, and by leading them through the wilderness with His ways and means of grace.

He gives them the Passover, the first of several primary types of the Lord’s Supper.  He tells them to “Do This,” to celebrate this meal annually in commemoration of the Exodus (and in anticipation of the coming Lamb of God), and to teach their children what it means, all by and with His Word.

Indeed, preaching, teaching, and the sacramental life are to shape and characterize God’s people, His children.  As with Moses the Prophet and Aaron the Priest for all the people, assisted by the Elders of Israel and the Levites, in particular, so also with the father in each household and family.

As Moses does, and as the kings were later to do, fathers are given to teach and rehearse the Law of the Lord with their children.  To pray and confess it with them on a daily basis, as they get up and go about their day, and as they go to bed each night.  Ritually, ceremonially, and practically.

The Manna in the wilderness is the second primary type of the Lord’s Supper, and of the Lord Jesus Himself.  It is the Lord’s provision, and at the same time a teaching and testing of faith, that the people be trained to trust Him, to obey His Word, and to live by His grace.  Not unlike the way that Luther explains the Our Father, especially the first four Petitions.  There is more than simple politeness involved in teaching our children to say please and thank you, and to be faithful in their stewardship of what the Lord provides.  We teach them to live by faith, to pray, and to be grateful.

The Covenant at Mt. Sinai is the third primary type of the Lord’s Supper.  It provides the basis and the context for the giving of the Book of the Law and the Ten Commandments, which are not given as a means of gaining life or becoming God’s children, but as direction for and description of that life, which He has given them by grace and seals unto them by His gifts, by His Word and Spirit.

His rules and prohibitions, His promises of reward and every blessing, and His threats of punish-ment and death, serve as a training in the way of righteousness — which is to say, in faith and love — so that He is honored and sanctified by His people, and the nations see His Glory in them.  This is not a case of legalism or works righteousness, but of God’s guiding and guarding His people in a way of life that preserves and protects their faith in Him and their love for Him and each other.

Where the Second Table of the Law protects the people from harming each other, the First Table protects them from their own native idolatry and unbelief by calling them constantly back to God and His Word.  To His honor and glory, yes, but also to their own great benefit and well-being.

The keeping of the Law does not create faith or give life to the one who keeps it — though it may do so for the neighbor who is thereby served in love!  But to depart from the Law is destructive of faith and life, whereas to live according to the Ten Commandments is conducive to protecting, serving, and supporting the faith and life that God has established and bestowed by His Gospel.

Both as a gracious gift of heaven on earth, a proclamation and promise of the incarnate Christ, and in view of the people’s sinfulness and hardness of heart, the Lord gives the Tabernacle (later the Temple), the Priesthood, the Sacrifices, and His Old Testament Liturgy, to preserve His people in His presence.  These are the ways and means by which He abides among them in peace, in spite of their sin, and by which He keeps them in His faith and love on their journey through this life.

It is His daily and yearly and ongoing forgiveness of sins that really defines His Church and saves His people from false worship, unbelief, and eternal death.  And the Law of the Lord serves that Gospel of forgiveness by requiring His people to give attention to it and to avail themselves of it.

By means of sacrifice, offerings, and almsgiving, the people are taught to fear, love, and trust in God, to live by faith and love, and to fix their eyes, their hearts, and their hope on Christ Jesus, the Lord’s anointed great High Priest, who would sacrifice Himself and shed His Blood to atone for their sins, to sanctify them, and to bring them to God.  And again, like Father, like Son, the people learn to sacrifice themselves — in faith and love — to the glory of God and for the good of their neighbors.  Such a life both confesses and confirms their faith and love in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We also take note of the Priesthood itself, the sons of Aaron and the Levites, who are types of the New Testament ministers of the Gospel, entrusted with the keeping and conduct of the Liturgy.

As already in the case of the Passover, the Lord establishes a Church Year, a calendar of annual festivals, to root the people in the sacred history of His Word and work.  Not simply as a memory, but as a continuation of His work among them.  To sanctify times and places with His Word and promises and gifts, as the means by which He remembers His people in grace, mercy, and peace.

The New Testament Church Year, which we have inherited across the generations, although not divinely commanded per se, is constituted by Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament calendar.  And aside from the basic piety of the Church Year, there could hardly be a more powerful means of teaching and preserving the Word of God and the story of Christ among His people.

There is also the very basic rhythm of weekly work and Sabbath Rest.  In fact, the Sabbath is not only rooted in Creation, but it permeates the Law as a fundamental principle of God’s dealing with His people (and of the way that they, in turn, are to deal with others).  They have their work to do, but He gives them rest — finally, fully, and forever in Christ Jesus.  Justification by grace alone, through faith alone, apart from the works of the Law, is found already in the Sabbath Day, even though it would ironically and tragically become a most burdensome thing in the legalism of the people’s hearts and lives, and a frequent target of accusations against the Lord Jesus.  God gives life, preserves faith, and provides people with peace and rest by His Word and His work, not theirs.

Pedagogical Discipline

In these various ways, the Lord uses the Law as a Tutor leading the people to Christ, to faith in Christ, and to the life and love of God in Christ.  His Commandments, His warnings, and His promises identify our needs and point us to His gracious provision, so that we learn to fear, love, and trust in Him.  Let me offer and describe four key components of this Pedagogy of the Law.

Prayer is fundamental to life as a child of God.  It is the voice of faith, which confesses and calls upon the Name of the Lord.  And by such faith we call upon Him as our “Abba! Father!” in Christ.

We can rightly distinguish prayer from the means of grace, but we should be careful in doing so that we not deny or downplay the essential role and purpose of prayer in the Christian faith and life.  God commands it and promises to hear and answer, for which reason Luther praises prayer highly.  It is of twofold benefit in preserving our faith in the Word of God: First of all, that we pray for such preservation, as in the Our Father.  And second, that prayer is an exercise of faith and a confession of the Word of God.  So it is that whoever calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.

As already mentioned and discussed, the Law also points us to the Peace and Sabbath Rest, the Safety and Security that are given and received within the Household and Family of God, in His Word and work of forgiveness.  Not unlike parents requiring their children to drink their milk, to eat their vegetables, and to go to bed at night, the Lord God requires His children to rest from their labors and to avail themselves of His good gifts.  The Law does not aim at instilling the right attitude in the hearts of the people, but at directing them to the times and places where the Spirit of God lays the Lord Jesus upon their hearts by the preaching and administration of the Gospel.

So is it also the case, as previously noted, that the Law disciplines and trains the children of God in the way of righteousness.  Not to justify themselves by their own works of the Law, but to live righteously by faith and in love.  Learning that way of life involves correction and guidance, rewards and punishments, trials and errors, but also progress and maturing.  The pattern is found in Christ Himself, though of course He was without sin from the start and made no mistakes.  He did learn and grow in wisdom and knowledge.  And though He was a Son, He learned obedience by the things that He suffered on our behalf.  The Cross itself was a discipline, which He bore and experienced in faith and love, in order to bear our sins and to bear the fruits of righteousness for us.  So does the Cross discipline us unto repentance, and bring forth in us the fruits of repentance.

Thus, to be a disciple of Jesus, to be disciplined in love by His God and Father, is to take up the Cross and follow Him, to learn from Him how to live and how to die in holy faith and holy love.

This brings us to the fourth basic component of the Law’s pedagogical direction: As it is fulfilled for us by Christ in His perfect faith and divine love, so does it teach us the heart of the Father, His good and gracious will, and the mind and Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It describes the divine life that we are called to live by faith in Him, so that we should be sons of our Father in heaven.

The Law is training us in this direction even before we are capable of perceiving or embracing such a divine and holy life in our hearts and minds and souls.  But as we are brought to repentance and faith in Christ, we no longer approach the Law as a means of self-righteousness, but as an instrument of love and mercy for our neighbor.  Not the Law but our perspective and attitude are changed.  In faith toward God, as sons and daughters of the Father, the Law teaches us how to live with mercy and love, patience and forgiveness for others, even as the Lord our God deals with us in His mercy and His love, with His long-suffering patience and His free forgiveness of our sins.

Nowhere is that more true or more significant than it is for us who are called to be fathers on earth — whether of our own households and families, or of the Household and Family of God.

By Whom All Fatherhood on Earth Is Named

A.  The Church of God as the pattern for the Home and Family

Just as the Marriage of Christ and His Bride, the Church, is the true Model upon which all human marriage ought to be based, and just as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the Father by whom all fatherhood on earth is named, so is the Household and Family of God the true Paradigm for our human homes and families, and for the way that we are to care for them in love.

Within their own homes, fathers are to serve their families as pastors, priests, and presidents — or, we might say, as princes under the true King.  That is to say, they are to preach and teach the Word of God, hear and answer their children’s petitions, and govern them with justice and truth.  The family home does not substitute for the Church, but it does emulate the life of the Church, and in this way it also participates in the coming of the Kingdom of God (on earth as it is in heaven).

A father is to love and honor his children’s mother, as the Lord cares for His Church.  And he is to teach his children how to be sons and daughters of God, to grow up into responsible men and women of faith, to fear the Lord, to love and trust His Word, and to speak and act with wisdom.  The Table of Duties in the Epistles and in the Small Catechism provides a summary of this work.

Obviously, fathers are responsible for teaching their children — or having them taught — many things pertaining to their life in the world, to their relationships and responsibilities.  All of these matters are pertinent to their faith and life as Christians and should not be neglected, especially as they help to shape and form the love they are called to exercise for their neighbors.  But here our primary focus is on their piety and religious life, that is, on their prayer and confession of Christ.

B.  The Teaching and Example of Fathers

Fathers teach the Word of God explicitly by reading it and speaking it to their children.  They teach them to confess by confessing it themselves, much as they teach their children to pray by praying with them and for them.  Luther’s guidance is still quite sound and foundational to this process: Establish the basic primary texts and have the children repeat and rehearse them verbatim, in order to fix the Word of God in their hearts and minds.  Then see to it that they are in Church to hear the preaching of the Word, to be catechized by their pastors.  And the home should be permeated with the Word of God and prayer, as well, beyond the basic chief parts of the Small Catechism.  The Scriptures should be read, the stories of the Bible told and discussed, and the Psalms, hymns, and Spiritual songs of the Church chanted and sung.  Fathers should also lead their families in praying and interceding for the Church and her ministers, for the world and its leaders, near and far, and for local neighbors and their pressing needs.  Nothing teaches love like prayer in Jesus’ Name.

It should be self-evident that fathers should practice what they preach and teach their children.  They also need to be in Church, to hear and learn the Scriptures, to confess their sins and receive absolution, to pray daily for themselves, their families, and their neighbors.  We find excellent examples in Elkanah, the father of Samuel, and in St. Joseph of Nazareth, who had the remarkable privilege and responsibility of teaching and training the Lord Jesus in God’s Word and prayer!

Fathers likewise teach their children by the discipline of their own lives in the world — by the language they use, the love they show, and the way they spend their time, invest their energies, and use their talents & treasures.  Fathers should both teach and demonstrate the priority of the Church and the Ministry of the Gospel by supporting them with their offerings and personal efforts, and by valuing the Liturgy and means of grace over and above the perishing pastimes of this world.

Children will certainly be aware of their father’s shortcomings, weaknesses, sins, and failures, at least to some extent.  So should they also be aware of their father’s confidence in and reliance upon the forgiveness of Christ, that he lives by repentance and faith, and that the Gospel is in fact the heart and center of his life, and not of his life only, but of life itself.  Really, nothing is more crucial to the passing on of God’s Word and faith than for fathers to be living by faith in the Word, not only in theory but in actual practice, both at home and in the Life and Liturgy of the Church.

C.  Training in Piety and Righteousness

Training children in piety and righteousness, repentance and faith, is accomplished by catechesis as a comprehensive way of life.  It is an apprenticeship of sorts, a kind of boot camp, a daily and ongoing discipline that is practiced by fathers and mothers along with their entire households and families.  They establish and live within an environment that is shaped and filled and characterized by the Word of God and prayer.  Not in isolation from the liturgical life of the Church, but in the closest connection and continuity with it.  Not just the pastor’s family, but every Christian family, to the extent that opportunity permits.   To live in this way is not extreme but normal and right.

As the Passover, the Manna, and the Covenant at Sinai were central to the Lord’s catechesis and preservation of His children, the sons of Israel, in the Exodus from Egypt, so is the Lord’s Supper central to the catechesis and preservation of Christians in His Word and faith, in the life and love of God.  Not only is ongoing catechesis necessary to an ongoing worthy and fruitful communion in repentant faith, but participation in the Holy Communion is itself a fundamental and formative catechesis in the Way of the Lord.  It is the New Testament in the Body and Blood of Christ, the Living Bread from heaven on the journey, and the true Passover in the Household and Family of God.  It is the primary locus and means by which God cares for His children with forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And by this I refer not simply to the Sacrament, as though in any kind of isolation, but to the full Liturgy of the Gospel, comprising both the preaching of the Word of Christ and the faithful celebration of the Lord’s Supper according to His Word.

Pastors, as spiritual fathers of the Lord’s Church on earth, are responsible for “Doing This” for His remembrance of and among His people.  Earthly fathers are responsible for bringing their children to their pastors and to the Lord’s Table within His Church.

A father should certainly be in Church with his children for the Divine Service every Lord’s Day, barring severe illness or incapacity — and he should send them with their mother, adult siblings, or other Christians, if ever he cannot accompany them himself.  And not only on the Lord’s Day, but at other times, as well, where possible, whether for the festivals of the Church Year or for the Church’s prayer offices.  This is the normal and normative pattern of the Christian faith and life.

Where it is not possible to be gathered with the pastor and congregation for daily prayer through the week — which work and/or school may prevent — then a father should establish and maintain a rhythm of daily prayer at home with his family.  The Treasury of Daily Prayer is a great resource for doing so, but there are other ways and means available, as well, not least of all the sort of materials that the Concordia Catechetical Academy has produced and provided over the years.

The Christian home and family ought to echo and reflect the seasons and contours of the Church Year, so that it is Advent or Lent, Christmas, Epiphany, or Easter, at home as at Church.  There should not be a compartmentalization of piety, but a confession of the Church’s Life that permeates the entirety of the family’s daily and weekly routines.  It need not be extravagant, but it should be deliberate and significant, enough to be noticeable, to provide the reference points for all of life.

Similarly, there ought to be a seriousness about the father’s discipline of his children.  Not in anger or rage, nor with harshness of words and punishments, but in love, in a firm but gentle way that again demonstrates by example the self-discipline and reverence of a Christian.  The goal of all such discipline is to teach right and wrong, and to train children in the righteousness of life and love in this world.  It prepares them to care for their own families in due time, and to love and serve their neighbors according to their own proper stations in life.  It teaches them to live under the authority of God, within the good order of His creation, and to exercise whatever authority and responsibility He entrusts to them over the course of their lives with the self-discipline of love.

Such discipline does not aim at any self-justification, but rather at a life that is shaped by the Love of God and lived in the fear of the Lord, to the Glory of His Name, and for the benefit of His people, for the Church on earth, and for all our neighbors in the world.

D.  Law and Gospel, Two Kingdoms, and the Keys

Fathers (and mothers) face an especially challenging task, because they are called to teach and administer both the Law and the Gospel within both of God’s “Kingdoms,” so to speak, that is, both as members of His Church and as citizens of the human community within His good creation.  Fathers are, again, pastors and priests, presidents and princes, within their own homes and families.  Such roles and responsibilities require real wisdom, discernment, and deliberate care.

Of particular importance is a clear recognition of the difference between life in the world and in relation to other people, and life before God in heart, mind, and conscience.  Fathers teach their children the Word of God and faith without presuming any control of their hearts and minds, where the Spirit of God works by His Word, where and when it pleases Him, according to His grace.

Fathers are called to live by faith in the Gospel, and to convey, demonstrate, and exercise the Gospel in dealing with their children in love.  They forgive, as they are forgiven.  But mercy and forgiveness do not equate to a lack of discipline, for discipline aims not at justification before God but at justice and peace among men.  Appropriate discipline does not lead to legalism any more than genuine forgiveness promotes licentiousness.  It is far more likely that permissiveness will lead to promiscuity and unbelief, and that a lack of forgiveness will result in a hardness of heart.

Following the example of God Himself, and heeding His direction, fathers train their children in the ways of life and love on earth by the use of promises and warnings, rewards and punishments, to identify and confirm what is good and bad, right and wrong.  Standards are determined and maintained, not arbitrarily, but in harmony with God’s Word and in keeping with the basic law of love for the neighbor.  To these ends, it is necessary that expectations be clearly and consistently established and expressed, and that corresponding consequences be applied with similar clarity and consistency when those expectations are either met or violated.

All of these things will change and develop over time as children grow and mature, while basic premises and principles remain constant.  Fathers must require and insist upon fairness and love in their children’s behavior, and they must demonstrate fairness and love in their own exercise of discipline.  But love should not be confused with permissiveness, which teaches not love for others but self-indulgence and the reckless pursuit of sinful passions at the expense of the neighbor.

At the same time, in their exercise of faith in the Gospel, fathers do also demonstrate and in a sense embody for their children the forgiveness of sins.  That’s not to speak of any compromise in discipline or fudging of the consequences for bad behavior, but of persistent love, provision, and care.  That is to say, even in the midst of punishment, fathers continue to love their children and provide for their needs.  Their identity and place in the home and family are not contingent upon their good behavior, but are a fact established by grace.  So they are clothed and fed, even if and when they don’t get dessert.  And they have a roof over their heads and beds to sleep in, even if and when they are sent to those beds early.  They still have their father’s and mother’s affection.

This is what the Prodigal Son remembered when he hit rock bottom and began to come back to himself.  He recalled his Father’s kindness and providential care for his household.  And it is this character of the Father that first of all begins to draw his wayward child home, and then actually moves him to go out to him and welcome him back.  This is a portrait of God the Father’s heart, which we know in Christ Jesus, His Son.  And it provides an example of the way that earthly fathers are to live as men after God’s own heart in relation to their children.  It also provides an encouragement to all of us men who have surely fallen short in our exercise of love and mercy, not unlike the older brother in the Parable, and yet our Father continues to pursue us with His Love.

As we teach our sons and daughters to examine their hearts and lives, to confess their sins, to apologize and seek absolution, and to bear the fruits of repentance in their lives and relationships, so do we also examine ourselves against the standard of God’s Word, confess our sins, live by faith in the forgiveness of the Gospel, and bear the fruits of love for our children and other neighbors.  None of this is child’s play.  It is the way that every Christian, both young and old, is called to live in Christ Jesus, in relation to their families, friends, enemies, and others.

Among other things, this standard of Christian faith and life means that fathers will acknowledge their own faults and apologize to their children where they have done wrong, dealt with them harshly or unfairly, or otherwise sinned against them.  Such humility and honesty, under God the Father in heaven, does not weaken or undo their authority as fathers, but rather strengthens their integrity, their position, and their teaching and confession of the Truth.  The alternative would be a denial of the very Word of God and the Christian faith which they are supposed to be teaching.  Children will hardly take it seriously for themselves, nor persist in it as they grow up and become adults, if they perceive that their fathers (and mothers) do not take it seriously in their own lives.

E.  Communication and Care, Clarity and Consistency, Charity and Compassion

As daunting and challenging as all of this parenting is, fathers and mothers should not despair, give up hope, or become cynical.  They should rather be confident and courageous in their callings and in caring for their children.  For God Himself has given them this task, entrusted their children to their stewardship, authority, and care, and is with them in this good work.  So there is this bold confidence in Him, which is coupled with genuine humility under His divine authority.  Not by any merit or worthiness, wisdom, reason, or strength of our own, but by His grace, mercy, and peace do we care for our children and bring them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, steadfast in His Word and faith until they die.  Indeed, it is His good and gracious will to bring this about.

In repentance and faith, we speak to our children, care for them, and deal with them with clear and consistent words and actions.  It is much like the clarity and consistency of Luther’s Catechism.  Not shifting and uncertain, but steady and solid and straightforward.  We speak the Truth in love, and we do as we say, even as we listen to the Lord and rely upon His Word and promises to us.

As we are called to have charity and compassion for all others, since we have received and depend upon the charity and compassion of our God and Father in Christ Jesus, all the more so do we exercise charity and compassion for our children.  Especially because their weaknesses, short-comings, and frailties derive from us in the first place, both by nature and by nurture.  Which also adds further impetus to the most basic rule, that we do unto others as we would have done to us.  Surely we can empathize with our children, and we rejoice to share in the Gospel along with them.


When God declared to Moses that He would not go up with the sons of Israel into Canaan, because they were so sinful and stubborn, and He would only destroy them in His righteous wrath, Moses interceded for Israel and pleaded with God that He must abide with them and go up with them, else they would perish — because they were so sinful and stubborn!

Thus, the Lord, the Lord, patient and long-suffering, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, provided the means by which He would dwell with His children and lead them forward all the way.  He established ways and means of grace and forgiveness in the Tabernacle, Priesthood, and Sacrifices, so that the people could be cleansed and preserved in His Word and faith and survive in His presence and His peace.  All of which He has fulfilled for us in the only-begotten Son, the Word who became Flesh and tabernacles with us, our merciful and great High Priest, who has sacrificed Himself once-and-for-all to atone for our sins and redeem us.  In Him do we and our children live by grace, through faith, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever.

This is how the Head of the Household sustains us through the wilderness and keeps us steadfast in His Word and faith, even until death.  Thus, we look to Him, both for us and for our children, and for our children’s children yet to come.  The first and foremost thing is that we not make gods out of our children, nor presume to be our children’s gods, but that we live with them by faith in the true and only God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who speaks to us and cares for us in the Word and Flesh of Christ Jesus.  So do we live and love in Him, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God, as the dear children of our dear God and Father in heaven.  We daily receive and rest ourselves in His daily divine providence for body and soul, the forgiveness of all our sins, and the Daily Bread that we need for this life and forever.  And in this faith and confidence, we confess and call upon His Holy Name, knowing that His Answer is a resounding “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ Jesus, and that we shall be saved by His grace unto the Resurrection and Life everlasting.

12 June 2016

To Live and Love by Faith in Christ

It is instructive and sobering to consider the progression of David’s sin.  It is a powerful example of the way that sin feeds upon itself and grows and increases, leading further and further into death.

To begin with, David’s laziness and neglect of duty — when he sent others to fight his battles while he stayed home — became an opportunity for the devil to conspire with his flesh to incite him to covetous lust.  Which in turn conceived and gave birth to adultery and murder.  And then, to cover his sin in a way that only made it worse, he made a vile pretense of compassion and mercy for the poor widow he had taken for himself, whose husband he had wickedly killed.

David’s sin is a case in point, but the story is told so that you should consider the sins in your own life.  What distractions have pulled you from your duties?  What lust has taken hold of your heart?  And what outward pretense of piety do you make to cover up your wrongdoings and failures?

Do not congratulate yourself if you have not stolen your neighbor’s life, wife, or livelihood.  Rather, be wary of temptation, resist and flee from your covetous desires, and repent of your sins.

David supposed that he had gotten away with his sins.  He thought that he had finally managed to work it all out, to take care of that awkward problem, and that everything would now be fine.  In fact, he had the girl he wanted in the first place, now bearing his child.  But how callous must his heart and conscience have become, if he were content and actually at peace with his wickedness!  Pray that God the Lord would not allow your heart to grow so cold and hard.

For the Lord did know David’s sin, and it was evil in His sight.  Indeed, He was greatly displeased, and His anger burned against David.  He was not duped, nor would He simply look the other way.

The Lord knows your sins, as well.  He knows the sins that you have managed to hide from your neighbors.  And He knows the sins that you have managed to bury and conceal from yourself, to deny or excuse in your heart and mind.  And, because He loves you, He would have you repent of those sins.  He calls you from your hellbent path of self-destruction, back to Himself and His Life.

In David’s case, He sent a pastor, the Prophet Nathan, to preach the Law and point the finger, to bring the inbred sin to light, and to convict David of his sin.  Not with any kind of pettiness or vindictiveness, as though He also were driven by the passions and lusts of fallen flesh.  He does not rejoice to crush His children.  But He wounds in order to heal.  He kills in order to make alive.

He exposed David’s sin and convicted him of it, in order to bring the fallen king to repentance.  To turn him away from his sin and death to forgiveness and faith in the Word of the Lord.  To bring him back to life in the mercies of God, and to the righteousness and right worship that are found, neither in sin nor in human works and efforts, but in the promises of His Gospel.

It is for this same reason and purpose that God causes the Law to be preached to you, also.  It is in His mercy that He does so.  He calls you from your sin and from your death to His forgiveness, and back to Himself, and back to His Life of holiness and righteousness in Christ.

For it is by the Gospel that He takes all the consequences and punishment of David’s sins, and of all your sins, and removes them from you, and puts them upon the innocent Son of David, His own dear Son, Christ Jesus, conceived and born of St. Mary and crucified under Pontius Pilate.

It is by His grace, through faith in this Lord Jesus Christ, that you are forgiven, that you are declared righteous, and that you are saved from sin, death, the devil, and hell.

It is not by any works of the Law that any of this is accomplished.  By the Law you are not made righteous, but you are cursed and condemned for your sins and failures.  For it is by the Law that your sin is exposed, and not only that, but made worse and exacerbated, and that you are then also convicted and condemned and sentenced to the punishment you deserve.

That is what the Law does when it confronts you, a sinner, with its righteous demands and divine prohibitions, because you fail to do what you should and persist in doing what you should not.

The Law convicts and condemns you, not only in a broad, general sort of way, which you can too easily ignore or brush off, but in very pointed and specific ways.  It addresses your own particular sins of thought, word, and deed.  For God has a way of getting into the cracks, into the closets and under the rugs, behind the closed doors of your heart and mind, body and soul.  His Law thus lays you bare before Him in your conscience, and maybe in the world, as well.

It is by the Law that you are made a sinner.  That you are brought to the end of your rope and hung upon it.  That you are driven to the conclusion of your covetous idolatry and unbelief.  That you are thus convicted of your sins, and that you thus despair of yourself and desire the grace of God.

So it is that, by the Law, you are called out as the man like David, guilty and deserving of death.

And it is by the Law that you are known to yourself and to the world as a sinner like that woman, who had the nerve to follow Jesus into the home of Simon the Pharisee, even though everyone, herself included, along with Simon and Jesus, knew who and what she was.  Probably she was a prostitute, though we are not told specifically, and we are certainly not given any of the prurient details.  She was a sinner like yourself, and that was already more than enough to condemn her.

That is where God’s Law would put you, as well.  Exposed in your sin, and humbled by His Word.

But this revealing and magnifying of sin is God’s “alien” work.  It is accomplished by His Word of the Law, by the accusations of your conscience, by the consequences and punishments of your sins in this mortal life, and by the discipline of your flesh with the curse of the fall upon this world.

But all of this in the service of God’s proper work, which is the Gospel.  That is to say, He accuses and condemns your sin in order to save you from it.  He shows you what your sin really is, and He calls you away from it, and away from the certain death that it brings.  He calls you to repentance and forgiveness, so that you would not die, as you deserve, but live by faith in Him.

He deals with you in love and mercy and forgiveness, because His desire and delight, His good and gracious will, and the whole purpose for which He has brought you into existence, is that you live with Him in safety and security, in peace and joy, in rest from all your hard labors and heavy burdens, and in the everlasting happiness and holiness of Christ.

When, by the mercies of God, His Law has done its work in you, so that you know your sin, and you know yourself truly as a sinner, then you will have no contempt for your neighbor’s sins, but only for you own.  And yet, when you thus know yourself to be such a sinner, then the Lord would also have you know yourself as an object of His Gospel, of His mercy and forgiveness.

Not only will you no longer have eyes for your neighbor’s sins, but you’ll no longer have eyes for your sins, either, nor for your own good works, but only for Jesus, for His Word and His works of mercy.  You’ll look to Him, and long for Him, and at His feet you’ll listen to and learn from Him.

For you are called to come in faith and love to Jesus, who is the Savior of sinners, including you.

It is by Him, and in Him, that the Law has been fulfilled on your behalf.  It is His divine grace and glory to serve you with His righteousness, to justify you by His own faith and faithfulness, to forgive you all your sins for His own Name’s sake, and to bring you into a right relationship with His God and Father, to peace and rest in the Holy Spirit, and to faith and life in Himself.

You worship Him, and you love Him, first and foremost, then, by hearing His Word, by receiving His good gifts of the Gospel, and by trusting Him for life and salvation with the Holy Triune God.

And then it also happens, by His grace, mercy, and peace, that, receiving all good things from Him — for body and soul, for this life and forever — you begin to love and serve Him in the members of His Body and in the needs of your neighbors.

As Jesus directs you to consider in the case of this forgiven woman, your faith in His forgiveness and your gratitude for such grace is manifested and magnified in your works of love for Him.

What, then, shall you do?  Do not presume to crown His head with glory, but humble yourself to wash and care for His feet, as He humbles Himself to wash the feet of His disciples.  That is to say, do not despise the humility of His Cross and His association with sinners, but join Him in caring for the lowly, the weak, the dirty and downtrodden, the overlooked and the underdogs.

So anoint His lowliness with costly and fragrant perfume.  Sacrifice your earthly treasures for the sake of honoring your Lord and adorning your neighbor with the sweet smelling fragrance of His mercy.  Follow Him, and support His Church and His disciples in love from your own means.

Carry out your duties within your own office and station in life, whether as a king or a soldier, as a husband and father, as a wife and mother, as a son or daughter, or whatever you are called to be.

And turn your eyes away, as need be, from the sins and from the shame and from the innocence of your neighbors.  Do not look at others as sexual objects, but as human beings like yourself, who are created in the image of God to live in His likeness by faith in His forgiveness of sins.

Thus do you forgive your neighbor who sins against you, as you yourself are forgiven by Christ.

And in that same faith and confidence, acknowledge your faults.  Repent of your sins, apologize, seek forgiveness, and make every effort to make amends and to be reconciled with whomever you have sinned against, whomever you have hurt or harmed in any way, whether with your words or with your actions, whether against your neighbor’s life, his wife, his possessions or reputation.

Instead of sinning against your neighbor, instead of craving or taking what is not yours, do good and show mercy and have compassion, not only for the rich and powerful, to gain their favor, but for the least, the last, and the lost, knowing that you also are among the least, the last, and the lost.

As the Lord Himself has both demonstrated by His example and taught you in His Word, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and visit the sick and imprisoned.  For the Lord has visited you in mercy.  He has brought you into His own home and family.  He has named you with His Name and clothed you in His Righteousness.  He feeds you with His Body and His Blood.

It has never been the case that what the Law commands you is wrong.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  It is only that you cannot keep it except by faith and love and in the righteousness of Christ Jesus.  Not that it is otherwise too hard for you (though it is), but that the keeping of the Law itself begins with the Lord your God, and that you live by His grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

You are indeed to live in faith and love — in faith toward God, and in fervent love for Him and for your neighbors, especially for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  And by the grace of God, in Christ, you do.  For it is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you.  You love Him, and you love your neighbor for Christ Jesus’ sake, because He first loves you.

You love Him to the extent that you embrace and take to heart His forgiveness of your sins.  And yet, thanks be to God, your forgiveness, life, and salvation never do depend on you, nor rest upon your love for God and man, but always and only on Christ Jesus, the Savior of sinners.  He became the curse of sin and death, in order to bestow the blessing of God upon you through His Gospel.

Do not persist in your sin, therefore.  Do not continue down that road of destruction.  Repent, trust Christ, and live!  Why should you die in your sin, when God Himself has become your Salvation?  Here is His forgiveness, which is for you.  Recline here at His Table, and rest yourself in His mercy, for He does not cast you away from His presence.  Eat and drink, and go in His Peace.

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

07 June 2016

The Charity of the New Creation in Christ

This is how the Lord, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, works to accomplish His purposes, to open blind eyes and to bring the prisoners out of their dark dungeon into His marvelous light: He calls and sends men to preach His Gospel, and He gives them as gifts to His Church on earth with the authority to forgive sins in His Name.

He calls them to follow Christ in the way of His Cross, to suffer and even to die for His Name’s sake.  But He also cares for them in all their needs.  He provides for them, for this body and life, for the work that He has given them to do, and for the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting.

In all things they live by His grace.  And by faith they live in love, as He lives in love for them and for His Church in heaven and on earth.  Which is to say that, whatever they have received from Him, they also give to His Church.  And so it is for you, as well, that you give to your neighbor in love what you have received in faith from the Lord through the Word and promise of His Gospel.

But where you have been selfish, unloving, and unfaithful in your calling and station in life, repent of your sin and return to the Lord your God in the hope of His Resurrection and His Righteousness.

To that end, receive the gifts that He gives to you by the Ministry of His Gospel, lest you refuse His grace and bring judgment upon yourself by rejecting His mercy, forgiveness, and healing.

Rely upon His Gospel.  Seek the Lord where He is found, which is in His Word and Sacrament.  Receive and rejoice in His forgiveness of sins and His free gifts of life in His Liturgy.  And praise the Name of the Lord, the true and only God, through the incarnate Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

That means praying, confessing, and giving thanks with your words, with your lips and mouth and tongue.  It also means using your time, treasures, and talents to love and serve and take care of your neighbor in proportion as the Lord has blessed you and provided for you.  Whatever the particular percentage may be, whether 5 or 10 percent, 20 percent, 50 percent, or even more, give generously of the means that God has placed under your stewardship.  For you are called to be an instrument of the Lord’s mercy and providential care for others.  And of course that includes the support of His Church and Ministry on earth with those gifts that He has freely given to you.

Your stuff and your skills, your money, and your other means, are chiefly for such care of the Lord’s people to the glory of His Holy Name and to the praise of His grace.

So it is that, really, as in the case of St. Barnabas, your whole body and life are offered as a living sacrifice in faith toward God, and in love for Him and for your neighbors in the world, especially for your brothers and sisters in Christ, since they are fellow members of the Lord’s household.

Again, wherever and however you have failed to live in this manner, as a Christian, by faith and love, repent of your sins and do better.  Do not excuse your past behavior, but in the confidence of the Gospel, in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus, bear the fruits of His Cross and Resurrection in care and compassion for your neighbor.  Cease and desist doing what is evil, and begin to do what is good and right according to the Word of the Lord that He has spoken to you, that is to say, within your own proper calling and place in the world, in the keeping of His Commandments.

Live and work in this way, as the Lord so enables and directs you to do, not as though by your own wisdom, reason, or strength, nor by your own righteousness, but by faith in the righteousness of Christ with which you are clothed and filled in His Ministry of the Gospel, by the preaching and administration of His free and full forgiveness.  Rejoice in His mercy upon you, in His charity of body and soul, for now and forever.  And so live courageously in love for Him, for all His people, and for those whom He would yet call and summon to Himself in peace.

This is the whole point and purpose for which the Lord your God has called and set apart, ordained and sent His servants, such as St. Barnabas, even to the ends of the earth.  From the biggest and busiest cities, and from the remotest islands, to the mountains and valleys, to the coastlands and countryside, and even here and now to you, the Lord speaks the Gospel and gives and pours out His Body and Blood to deliver you from darkness and death and to bring you into faith and life.

By this New Thing that He does by His grace, you also are His New Creation.  So do you sing His praises, here and hereafter, in the New Song of Christ Jesus, the Lamb who was slain for your transgressions, who has risen from the dead as your Righteousness, Life, and Salvation, and who reigns forever and ever as your merciful and great High Priest in the beauty of His holiness.

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