29 August 2016

Crucified and Risen with Christ Jesus

Even in death — especially in death! — St. John is still preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He is still proclaiming Christ, the Lamb of God, and always pointing to Him.  He is still preaching the Resurrection.

To preach this Baptism of Christ is dangerous and deadly; and to receive this Baptism and submit to it is likewise dangerous and deadly.  First of all because it crucifies you, and cuts off your head, and buries you in the dust of the earth whence you were taken.

It exposes, accuses, and punishes your sin: your lust, your greed, your selfishness, your pride, your fear and doubt; the hardness of your heart; the grudges that you bear and harbor; the grasping of your hands, and the dark confusion of your head.

When St. John calls you to repentance, he isn’t playing games or offering “advice.”  There is no hidden strategy or secret agenda.  Wherever in your life there is sin, whether in your heart or hands or mouth — wherever you are sinning in thought, word or deed — Repent.  Fear God.  Turn away from evil.  Do good.

Is it hard?  Will it hurt?

That isn’t yet the half of it!

It is impossible, and it will kill you.

When St. John calls you to repent and points you to Christ Jesus, he bids you come and die.

The waters of your Holy Baptism are your grave, wherein you are buried with Christ the Crucified.

To share His Baptism is to share His Cross.  So in this way, also, your Baptism is dangerous and deadly.  The world will not love you, but hates you because of it.  The powers of this world will not protect you, but will persecute you and put you in prison; they will put you to death, if and when they can, for the Name of Christ.

But if your Baptism crucifies you and puts you to death by way of repentance, it also lays the Cross of Christ upon your neck for the sake of faith and love.

What you suffer under His Cross is not pointless or meaningless, even if it all seems hopeless.

St. John could have supposed that his work was done, and that it had all been for nothing, when he was locked up in prison; when his beautiful feet were shackled and chained in a dungeon.  But by the grace of God, through faith in Christ — did you hear it? — he kept on preaching.

Herod heard but did not heed the preaching of St. John.  Nevertheless, despite the fact that Herod finally cut off his head and shut up his beautiful lips, St. John’s innocent suffering and death still preach Christ and Him Crucified, also here and now to you.

Do not shut your ears to St. John’s witness, and do not despair of your own vocation under the Cross.

Suffer patiently, as you are called to suffer (and to die), and serve faithfully, wherever you are called to serve, even if it be in a deep dark dungeon.

Do not despair, but believe the words and promises of God. For he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.

Love and trust in Him who has lived and died and risen again for you; who died, and yet, behold, He lives; who was baptized for you, and crucified, dead, and buried for you, and who has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity for you.

But, O Lord, how long?  How long?

How long must you suffer and die, before you shall be vindicated and live?

In truth, It is finished.  All has been accomplished and fulfilled in Christ Jesus, in His Baptism by St. John in the Jordan, in His Cross and Resurrection.  Those who live and die by faith in Him, shall never die, but live with Him in His Kingdom in His everlasting righteousness and holiness, in His innocence and blessedness.

Your suffering and your death find their place, their meaning, their purpose, and their fulfillment in the Cup of Christ, the Cup of Blessing which we bless.

And you find your rest here under His Altar, under the shelter of His wings, in the Body of your Savior, in the Bosom of your dear God and Father.

Rest here, and be at peace, whether you live or die.  You are the Lord’s.  Your real life is hidden in Him and with Him, safe and secure forever and always.

Even now, His miraculous powers are at work in you: to cast out all your demons, to heal all your iniquities, to forgive all your trespasses, and to raise you from the death of your sin to life with Him.

It is all by the way of His Cross.  Which also means, no less, that it is in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection from the dead, established for you by the power of His indestructible life.

For He has so identified Himself with you, and bound Himself to you in Holy Baptism, and here at His Altar with His own holy Body and precious Blood, that as He lives, so shall you live forever.

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

28 August 2016

Humbled and Exalted in Christ Jesus

The Word of the Lord Jesus is plain: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.”

And, truth be told, you have exalted yourself.  You have done so in the past, and you still do it.

You exalt yourself over against the Lord by sitting in judgment of Him, no less than the Pharisees and their lawyers did when they invited Him to dinner and sat there watching Him closely, testing Him, looking for a way to trap Him, to accuse Him.

You may protest that, No, you don’t do that.  You love Jesus.  And you are here this morning, after all.  But your critical assessment of His Word is a judgment against Him, which is an exalting of yourself.  For you pick and choose what part of His Word you will hear and heed and honor and obey.  You may listen to it, but you act as though you were free and clear to take it or leave it.

The Law of the Lord and His commands are clear, but you do not obey them.  You do not fear, love, and trust in Him.  You place yourself and other gods above Him, as though you were the higher authority, and as though you had the last word.

When you covet what God has given to your neighbor, for example, you accuse the Lord in your heart of being unfair to you, of holding out on you, of not giving you what you think you deserve.  In this way, also, you exalt yourself in the presence of God.

You likewise sit in judgment of your neighbor, and here, too, you exalt yourself.  You do not deal with your neighbor in love and mercy and forgiveness.  You are not charitable toward your neighbor, as the Lord your God is so charitable toward you.  When your neighbor is in need, you may or may not try to help him.  Among your neighbors are those who go hungry, whom you do not feed.  Those who are sick or in prison, whom you do not visit.  Those who are naked and ashamed, whom you do not defend or speak well of to cover their shame and uphold them.

There are plenty of neighbors whom you do not help at all.  And those whom you do help, you help because there is something in it for you.  There are favors to be exchanged.  Invitations to be received and given.  Friendships to be won, and palms to be greased.  After all, it’s who you know that gets you ahead in life.

Or, perhaps the benefit you get from helping some of your neighbors is a sense of self-righteous satisfaction.  It may be that you help your neighbor, then, but only because it makes you feel that much better about yourself.  Here again you exalt yourself above others.

And yet, despite your unbelief, idolatry, and lack of love, you persist in exalting yourself as you presume to come into the presence of God on the basis of your own righteousness.  As though you had a right to stand before Him.  As though you had a shred of merit or worthiness in yourself.

In all of these ways, with all your sins, you exalt yourself over and above both God and man.

Yet, the Word of the Lord remains clear: “The one who exalts himself will be humbled.”

He does not say, “may be humbled.”  No, you will be humbled.  You will be humbled by the Lord.

Pray, therefore, that you are humbled here in time, unto repentance, before it is too late; and that you are not permanently humbled in the final judgment of the living and the dead.  For those who resist and reject the Word of the Lord; those who do not receive His chastening and His discipline; those who refuse to repent of their sins; those who persist in exalting themselves — they will be condemned in their unbelief and sin, and subject to eternal shame and everlasting judgment.

God grant that He would humble you by His Word and Spirit, not unto that eternal condemnation, but unto repentance and a reliance on His mercy, unto life everlasting in His forgiveness of sins.

Thanks be to God that, in His mercy, He does work to humble you in this way — by the preaching of His Law, and by allowing you to suffer some of the curse and consequences of your sin — in order to bring you to repentance.  To turn you away from your death and destruction, away from your sin and your self-exalting, back to Himself in repentant faith and love.

That way of life has been opened for you.  It is possible for you to be turned around and turned back.  You can be rescued from the pit of despair into which you have fallen.  And you are able to come into the presence of the Lord your God and stand before Him in peace and confidence.

The way is open to you, because the Lord Jesus Christ has humbled Himself in order to exalt you.  In fact, He alone has truly humbled Himself.  Though He is true God in the flesh, He did not count His equality with God as something to horde for Himself, but He made Himself nothing.  He took on the form of a servant.  He humbled Himself and became obedient, even unto death on the Cross.

He has gone to the Cross, bearing in His own Body all of your sins — all that you have failed to do, and all that you have done which you should not.  He has borne in His Body all your griefs and sorrows, all your guilt, and all your shame, and all of your humiliation.

All that you have failed to do for your neighbor, He has done in love for you.  And all that you have deserved for your sin, the judgment and punishment of the Law, He has borne for you.

He has not done it under any coercion or compulsion, but voluntarily.  He has gone willing to His suffering and death out of His great love for His Father, and out of His love for you, His neighbor.  He has thus gone to His death in true righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

He has done all of this for you and your salvation.  He has taken your place.  It is in your stead that He has humbled Himself and died.  And because He has done all of this for you, on your behalf, so are His vindication, His exaltation, and His ascension all credited to you and given to you.

You are raised with Christ in His Resurrection, and seated with Him in the heavenly places, in the presence of God, who welcomes you as a Father His child, with love and mercy and forgiveness.

The Lord Jesus humbled Himself unto death, and God exalted Him by raising Him from the dead, and has given Him the Name that is above every name in heaven and on earth and under the earth.  What is more, the same Lord Jesus Christ has given that Name to you in your Holy Baptism.  Everything that He has accomplished and received in His own flesh and blood, He has also given to you.  As you see Him rise and ascend, therefore, you see Him bring you into the presence of God in His own Body, into the heavenly Banquet of His own Wedding Feast.

You stand before God in Christ.  Not to be condemned, but declared righteous, and dressed in His beautiful holiness and spotless perfection.  Not to die, but to live forever with Christ in God.

For He has come down from heaven and given Himself for you, in order to make of you a member of His holy Bride, the holy Christian Church, and He your heavenly Bridegroom.

Here, then, already set before you in His Holy Supper, is the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, who is your Husband and your living Head.  You are His honored guest, for you belong to Him, to His Body and His Bride.

He has invited you here, and He has wooed you and wed you to Himself, not because of any righteousness in you, but for the sake of His Love and for the sake of His Righteousness.  He has not invited you here because you were His friend or His relative or His wealthy neighbor.  Indeed, you were none of these.  You had absolutely nothing with which you could ever have repaid Him.

But though He was rich, yet, for your sake, He became poor.  Not to line His pockets, but yours, so to speak; in order that you might inherit the riches of God in Him.

Though you have been a child of sin and death — a child of the devil and his murderous lies; estranged from God, and far removed from Him — the only-begotten Son of God has come to gather you in, to make of you a dear child of God, a beloved daughter or son of the Father in Christ, anointed by His Spirit.  So it is that you belong to His family, and all that He has is yours.

It is in His love for you that He seeks you out and gathers you in to Himself.  And in His mercy all your sins are forgiven.  All of your iniquities are pardoned.  All of your diseases and infirmities are healed.  Your sadness is turned into joy.  Your shame and humiliation are turned into honor.

Though you are a poor, miserable sinner, and you deserve nothing but punishment, and you could never repay the debt that you owe to God, and you have nothing to bring before Him, nothing to offer Him, Christ Jesus has come for you and given Himself for you.  He covers you with Himself.

He prepares a Table before you.  He sets it here in your presence.  He invites you to come and kneel at His Altar to receive these good gifts which He freely gives.  And here you are, set before Him with your sickness unto death, with all your sins and griefs and sorrows; yet, you are not turned away or cast aside.  He reaches out to you with His Word of the Gospel, and with His own life-giving Body and Blood.  He takes hold of you by grace.  He heals you and gives you life.  He grants to you His Peace and true Sabbath Rest in His Father’s House within His holy Kingdom.

Though He does humble you with His Law, He does not do it to destroy you.  He humbles you, not to drive you away from Him into despair, but in order to bring you into repentance, and back to Himself in faith and love.  So has He done by His grace, and so He continues to do in His mercy.

And with the preaching of His Holy Gospel, His Word to you is this: “Friend, come up higher!”

He calls you His friend!  He invites you to come to His Table, to recline here with Him.  Therefore, come, and take and eat the Body of Christ, which He gives to you in peace.  And drink from this Cup His holy and precious Blood, which He pours out for you in love, for the forgiveness of sins.

Here the Lord, the King, the Prince of Peace honors you; He blesses you, and He exalts you in His Righteousness, in His Resurrection from the dead.  He has pulled you out of the pit into which you had fallen.  He has lifted you up, and seated you at His own side as a guest of honor at His Table.

Rejoice in the Lord, therefore.  Give thanks to Him, and glorify His holy Name, forever and ever.

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

24 August 2016

Anne Has Departed from this Life in the Peace of Christ, Her Savior

What is it that you’re looking for in life?  What are you trying to find?

Whatever you might call it, however you might describe it, and however your heart might feel it, what you’re looking for and longing for is peace.  Not simply a truce or cease-fire.  Not merely the absence of arguments and conflict.  But real peace.  Genuine contentment and true satisfaction.  Confidence in who you are and why you’re here.  And not only reconciliation, but actual friendship with God and with your neighbors.  A peace that flows with identity, meaning, and purpose.

In her latter years, especially, Anne was challenged, tried, and tested precisely in that regard.  She spent twenty years without her husband.  Her children were grown, and two of them, Ronald and Richard, preceded her in death.  She could no longer stay in her own home.  Her thoughts were getting fuzzy, her memory slipping.  And she had so many chronic aches and pains, all coupled with a growing weariness of heart, mind, and body.

She was tired and bored, and she often wondered why she was still here.  And yet, Anne’s faith, hope, and love remained in Christ, as He remained faithful to her.  And her peace, even to the last, was located not in her abilities, activities, or achievements, but precisely in her Lord, upon whom she waited in patience and in prayer.

Like Anne, you’re also looking for such a peace that surpasses all human comprehension and achievement.  And, like her, you are called to find it in the same place that Simeon and Anna did: In the Temple of the Lord.  Which is to speak, no longer of any one building over in Palestine, but of the Body of Christ Jesus, the Babe, the Son of Mary, who grew up to be crucified under Pontius Pilate, who died and was buried, who has risen and ascended to the right hand of the Father.  Your true and lasting Peace is found in the Sign of His Cross and in the promise of His Resurrection, in accordance with the Word and Spirit of God.

But how shall you perceive and recognize what Simeon and Anna saw in the Christ Child, that is, the Light of revelation to the Gentiles and the Glory of His people Israel?

And how shall the Light of Christ reveal the meaning and purpose of your life, not haphazard and capricious, but graciously given by God?  To say it simply, how shall you live and die in peace, in the way that Anne was granted to live and die by faith in Christ Jesus?

If you “live like you were dying,” as they say, that might seem helpful in some respects; or maybe not so much.   But that approach is not the source of peace, especially when life lingers long past the point when you can run with the bulls, parachute out of an airplane, or even maintain your normal routines in caring for yourself.  However long or short your days and years on earth may be, your life is not in your own hands to do with as you like.

But simply resigning yourself to the fact that someday you’re going to die — sooner or later, this way or that — such an attitude is also not the peace of Christ but the cold logic of Satan.

Consider, instead, the righteousness of faith in the Gospel, which reasons in this way: “Yes, it is true that I shall die from this temporal life on earth; and I have already died with Christ in my Baptism.  But so is it also true that my life is hidden with Him in His Resurrection and Ascension, in the bosom of my God and Father in heaven.  Therefore, even though I die, yet shall I live.”

Who dies thus, dies well.  And so has Anne now departed from her life on earth in the Word and faith of Christ; and by the power of her Holy Baptism she lives and abides forever with Christ in God, even while her body yet awaits the Resurrection of all flesh.

In the meantime, for you who remain in this mortal body and life — although you also are in the process of dying — there is a meaning and a purpose for the time and place that you are given here, for your callings and stations in life.  As it was for Anne throughout her almost 99 years, so also for you, even when that meaning and purpose are hidden and mysterious.  You live in faith and love, in patience, prayer, and praise, and already there is peace for you in the Lord Jesus Christ.

For whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.

That is the key, first of all, to this Holy Gospel, to the Presentation of our Lord Jesus in the Temple, and to the Peace of Christ that you share with Anne, with Simeon, Anna, Mary & Joseph.

You are the Lord’s  because He has redeemed you, purchased and won you.  As He once redeemed the firstborn sons of Israel from death, and redeemed His people Israel from Egypt, so has He even more gloriously redeemed you and all people from sin, death, the devil, and hell, by the Sacrifice of His holy Body and the shedding of His precious Blood upon the Cross.

That is why Jewish parents brought their firstborn sons to the Lord’s house: The Levites did so to dedicate their sons to service in the priesthood; and the rest of the Israelites came to redeem their sons from sacrifice, to sanctify them for their life in this world to the glory of God.  Because, in truth, both they and all their children are the Lord’s by right, who is their Creator and Redeemer.

So are you also His, along with your parents and children, your brothers and sisters, and all your family, friends, and loved ones.  You belong by right to your Creator and Redeemer, from whom your life and all things come by His grace alone.

So does He call you daily to repentance and to faith in His Word.  To be baptized, if you are not, and to remember the significance of your Holy Baptism all the days of your life.  He calls you to live, in whatever place He has put you, whatever your situation and circumstance, no longer for yourself, but for Him who for your sake died and was raised.  To live in faith toward God, and in fervent love for Him and for your neighbor, all for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Savior.

It is by His own Cross and Resurrection that He works repentance in your heart and life, and by which He sanctifies your body and soul to the glory of His holy Name.

And it is by His Cross and Crucifixion that He reveals the secret thoughts of your heart, as Simeon prophesied to St. Mary.  For His Cross opposes whatever selfishness and self-righteousness there is in you, whatever striving for yourself.  His Cross brings about the dying of your self.  That, too, belongs to the purpose of your life on earth, that God the Father should thus conform you to the Image of His Son.  Just as He also, in mercy, called Anne to Himself, named her with His Name, anointed her with His Spirit, and justified her in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

Because the Cross that Anne was given to bear and carry — and which you are likewise called to bear and carry — is first of all the Cross of Christ Himself, so also is the righteousness of His Resurrection credited to Anne, and to all those who believe and are baptized into Him.  Therefore, not death but life shall have you; not slavery but freedom; not fear and sadness, but peace and joy.

Christ has given Himself for you and for Anne and for all.  Not only for the dying of repentance, but also for the rising of faith.  Not only are you put to death to your self, but you are also raised up to a new life in Christ within His one Body of many members.  You live as He lives, and you shall never die.  You live as He lives, and your life is bound up together with all who live in Him.

Therefore, the peace that you are looking for and longing for in the depths of your being is not only your own comfort and salvation, but the redemption of Jerusalem and the consolation of Israel.

The peace that you are looking for is found in Christ Jesus, because He has reconciled God and man in Himself, in His own Person, in His own flesh and blood, in His Cross and Resurrection.  You find the peace that you are looking for in Him, and you also find your neighbors and friends in Him; your brothers and sisters; your fathers and mothers; your sons and daughters; your babies and old people.  In loving Him, you love each and all of them.  And in loving them, you love Him.

So it is that your love for Anne over the years, and her love for you, have been a confession and an exercise of the Love of God in Christ Jesus.  Hence, there is real meaning and purpose in your life on earth, in your loving care for your neighbors, and in being loved by your fellow Christians.

It is both a humble and exalted thing, that to love and to be loved as a Christian is to live by faith in the Image of the Son of God.  It is humbling to care for those who are nearing the end of their mortal life, and even more humbling to be cared for after a lifetime of caring for yourself.  But in Christ Jesus, by faith in Christ, you are raised up and exalted by the grace of God, by the glory of His Gospel, by His merciful care for you and for all of His dear children.

It is to such a life that you are called to live by the Word of the Lord, and so are you guided by His Holy Spirit to live and love in peace.  That is what brought Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna to the Temple, to the little Lord Jesus.  And the same Word and Spirit of the same Lord brought Anne also to the Temple of God in the Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.

Thus, like her namesake, Anne was also in the Temple as often as she could be, serving by night as by day with her fasting and prayers.  And when she was no longer able to be in the Lord’s House due to her age and infirmity, the Temple of the Lord came to her, where she was, in the preaching of the Gospel and in the Sacrament of His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for her.

In much the same way that dear St. Mary and St. Joseph brought the Christ Child to the Temple in Jerusalem, so that blessed St. Simeon and St. Anna were able to receive Him and rejoice in His salvation, so did Anne receive her Lord Jesus and rejoice in His mercy and compassion, in His free and full forgiveness of all her sins.

That same Gospel of forgiveness in the Body of the same Lord Jesus Christ is likewise given and poured out for you in His House, in the Temple of His Church on earth, wherever His Word is preached and His Sacraments are administered in His Name.

It is all the blessed good work of the little One who opened the womb of His Mother Mary, who was brought up to Jerusalem and presented to the Lord: not only in the Temple once upon a time, but once-for-all upon the Cross, in order to become in His own Body the Temple of God forever.

This little One, the Babe, the Son of Mary, He is your Peace.  For in flesh and blood like yours, He has been righteous and devout, and He has performed everything in fulfillment of the Law.

By His Cross He has redeemed you, and in His Resurrection His Body has been established as the true Temple of God in heaven and on earth.  As your merciful and great High Priest, He ever lives to pray and intercede for you before His God and Father, while He also comes and enters in to be with you here in His Church on earth.

As He cared for Anne throughout her long life, redeemed her for Himself, preserved her in the one true faith, and granted her to depart in peace, so does He care for you in love and call you to die and rise with Him, to live by faith in His Word and promises, and to abide now and forever in His Peace, which far and away surpasses all our human understanding.

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

21 August 2016

Reclining at the Table with Jesus in the Kingdom of God

The Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God, your incarnate Savior, crucified and risen — He comes to you here.  And in Him the Kingdom of God is among you.  For He comes to bring you into that Kingdom by the way and means of His Word and Sacraments.  Which is to say, more concretely and specifically, that He does for you as He did for the people of those cities and villages He visited when He walked this earth on His Way to the Cross.

He catechizes you with His Word, with His Law and His Gospel, His commands and promises.  He calls you to repent, and He forgives your every sin.

He prepares a Table before you, to feed you with His Body and His Blood.  He invites you tenderly to recline with Him at that Table, to eat and drink with Him in His presence, in His Peace.

And what is more, along with all of this, He has opened the way of life to you by His own death on the Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  For He has, on your behalf, perfectly fulfilled and satisfied the entire Law of God, every jot and tittle of it.  He has done it all for you and your salvation.  So has He also offered Himself, His Body and Life, as the perfect atoning Sacrifice for all of your sins and failings.  He has taken on Himself the wrath of God against all of your sins, in order to reconcile you to His God and Father in heaven, and to give you Peace by His Spirit.

It is by and through the Cross of Christ, and by His righteousness alone, that you are called to enter the Kingdom of God in Him, and to live forever with Him in the presence of the Living God.

Now, truth be told, as glorious as all of this is, it is a precarious and terrifying prospect for poor, miserable sinners like yourself.  It is a sobering invitation, indeed, to be called into the presence of the true and only God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth.

Do not suppose for one instant that you can enter His Kingdom, make yourself at home in His House, or stand before Him by any merit or worthiness of your own.  Do not presume upon your Host, and do not take His gracious hospitality for granted.  For if you examine yourself in the Light and Truth of God’s Word, then you shall find nothing there in yourself but sin and death, for which you would rightly be punished both here in time and hereafter in eternity.

Do not fool yourself that any work or effort or striving or sincerity or any righteousness of your own self will save you here.  It will not.

If you remain in yourself, you cannot win.  You cannot come into the presence of God by your own righteousness; but neither can you escape Him, His Law, or His judgment.  He will find you.  There will be a day of reckoning.  There will be a judgment of the living and the dead.  And while you cannot live with Him in your sin, far less can you live at all without Him!  You cannot cling to your sin and survive.  You cannot run from God and remain safe and whole and comfortable.

In and of yourself, your sin separates you from God and makes it impossible for you to approach Him.  But not only that.  It means that you are unable to abide or survive His coming to you.  And He is coming.  Coming to judge the world in righteousness.  But so also coming to you here and now, by and with His Word, to call you from your sin to repentance, to faith and life in Him.

It is not enough simply to bemoan your bad behavior and correct your outward faults.  Your actions are not yet the heart of the matter.  Nor your words.  Nor even your sinful ideas.  Your sin is not found primarily in your habits and vices and naughtiness.  It does not begin, nor does it end, with your sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.  The problem is far bigger and deeper than that.

Your sin is deeply rooted in your heart and in your will.  It resides in your ego. — your “I,” “Me,” “Mine.”  It lives and it thrives in your self-identity, whereby you regard yourself as your own god.

Your sin characterizes, not only what you do, but who and what you are apart from Christ.

It is out of that sinful fountain and source of your unbelieving heart, your stubborn will, your unclean spirit, your beclouded mind, and your perverse strength, that all of your sinful living, and all of your sinful thinking, speaking, and acting proceeds.

Cleaning up your act does not solve the problem; though your sinful actions are not thereby excused or any less damnable in their own right.  Behind and beneath the surface you are still sick to the core.  And left to yourself and your own devices, you shall die.

The Lord your God is a consuming fire.  He is the almighty and immortal God, the holy and righteous God.  And what are you?  O man, O woman.  What are you but a sinful and rebellious creature, taken from the dust of the earth, to which you shall return?

How shall you stand in the judgment?  How shall you not be condemned?

Repent!  Despair of yourself and your own filthy righteousness.  Mourn and lament your sins, and stop pursuing them.  Be broken of your self-reliance, self-centeredness, and selfish desire.

Strive, instead, to enter through the narrow door, by which alone you will enter the Kingdom of God and live with Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

But what is this narrow door?  Where do you find it?  And how shall you enter through it?

Your only help, and your only hope, is Christ, the Son of God, who has been crucified for you.  There is salvation in no one else, but only in Him.  Seek His face always, and trust Him.  Cling to Him.  Believe in Him.  Live in Him.  For He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father but by Him

He is the Door by which you enter.  He and His Cross and Passion are the narrow way, by which you come into the presence of His God and Father, cleansed and forgiven by His Blood, righteous in His bodily Resurrection.

Dying with Christ by repentance, you live before God in Him, in righteousness and purity forever.

It is the righteousness and holiness of Christ alone that cover you and avail for you before God in heaven.  And this righteousness and holiness of Christ are yours by no other way or means than by His grace, His charity toward you.  They are yours through faith in His Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins.  He is your Advocate and Defender, and He declares that you are righteous for His sake, because He has taken His stand for you, though you are sinful and unclean in yourself.

Be where that Word of the Gospel is spoken.  Not simply to hear it, and to let it pass through your ears, in one and out the other.  But hear it and heed it.  Believe and trust in it.  Know that it is true. His forgiveness is true.  When He says that your sins are forgiven, they are forgiven.  When He declares you righteous, you are righteous in Him.  And when He has thus spoken, then do not let anyone in heaven or on earth tell you otherwise.

Hear His Word.  Believe His Word.  Look for Christ, and listen to Him, where He may be found — where He speaks His Word of Holy Absolution; where He forgives you all your sins.

Be in Church for the Divine Service, where His Word is proclaimed.  But do not boast of your attendance.  Boast only of Christ, who is here with you.  He is here for you, in order to serve you.

Read His Word.  Recite His Word.  Repeat His Word.  Rehearse it in your heart and mind and on your lips.  Memorize His Word, and teach it to your children.  Confess His Word.  Pray, praise, and give thanks, as His Word opens your lips to speak.  Not only here, but in your home and in your family.  Not only once a week, not only twice a month, not only once or twice a year, but every day, all week long, all year long, until you die.  Your life is not your own.  You are the Lord’s.

Here is your salvation in His very Word to you.  Do not neglect it.  You dare not despise it, for you cannot live for even one day without His Word; not really.  But here your gracious Lord comes to speak to you; not to judge and condemn you, as you deserve, but to judge and declare you righteous, to heal you, to forgive you, to raise you up and exalt you.  He comes to save you.  Open your ears to what He says, and do not close your heart to Him who is your Savior and your God.

But even doing all of this, do not boast of your piety and faithfulness.  It is no more than your duty.

Do not presume to tell the Lord your God how often you have prayed.  Do not keep a record of how often you have come to church.  You are not saved by these works of yours.  You are not righteous by your stats.  You are rescued and redeemed by Christ and His mercy.

Even when you have been recalcitrant and absent, He remains your Redeemer.  He is still for you.  He is still your Savior.  He ever lives to make intercession for you before the Father in heaven, even as He continues to call you to repentance here on earth.  He loves you.  He is your Champion.

To Him alone belongs all glory, honor, and praise.  Give thanks to God for Him above all else.

Give thanks to God for Him.  And in thanksgiving, hear and receive His teaching and catechesis.  But do not boast of your hearing and receiving.  Likewise, eat and drink the Holy Supper to which He invites you.  But do not boast of your eating and drinking.  Shall you brag about receiving gifts of utter charity?  Should you not rather be grateful to God, and charitable to others in turn?

Live in love for your neighbor — for your family, your friends, and your enemies.  Forgive them, and love them, and serve them.  But do it for God’s sake.  Do it for your neighbor’s sake — for Christ’s sake — and not for your own sake, as though to merit some credit with God.

Your only credit before God is Christ Jesus, crucified and risen for the forgiveness of your sins and for your righteousness in Him.  He has come for you, the Son of God in the flesh, to save you.  He has given His Life for you.  He has shed His holy and precious Blood for you.

Will you add to this?  Will you gain some greater righteousness than this?  Will you make yourself more holy than He makes you by His precious Blood, by His Word and Holy Spirit?

The Lord Jesus has opened the way for you, through His death into Life everlasting with God.  He has already satisfied the Law’s demands, and He has done so on your behalf, to your credit.  He has made atonement for you, for your every sin of heart and mind, body and soul, including those you know and those you have not even been aware of.

He has opened the Kingdom of heaven to you in His own Resurrection and Ascension, and He has brought you to the Father in and with Himself, in His Body, with His Blood.  For He has washed you with the water and His Word, and given you the new birth of His Spirit, and bound you to Himself as a son of God in Him.  By His Word and Spirit in the water and the blood, you are clean, you are His very own, and you are pleasing to His God and Father.

In all these ways and means, according to His tender grace and mercy, He has called you to Himself through His Gospel of forgiveness.  And even now, He comes to you here, in order to be with you where you are, so that you may be with Him where He is forever.  Here He preaches, and He teaches, and He feeds you with Himself.

Listen to Him.  Eat and drink at His Table; feast upon Him who feeds you.  Trust Christ, and live.

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

15 August 2016

The Lord Raises Up the Humble in His Glory

What is to become of you?  What hope do you finally have?  What shall be your life’s end?  And what shall be your life after death?

The answer to all of these questions is most assuredly in Christ Jesus, your Savior and your God.

It is by the grace of God in Christ that He has spoken His Word of the Gospel to you.  Not just as good news or information about some historic fact, but as the very forgiveness of your sins, and as the gift, the bestowal, of divine life in Christ.  And this not only for your soul, or for some kind of disembodied spirit, but for who you really are, as God created you, body and soul, one person of flesh and blood, of heart, mind, and spirit.  It is for all of you that your hope is in Christ Jesus.  For God has called you by name to be His own dear child, a beloved and well-pleasing son.

In Holy Baptism, He has given you the new birth of water and the Spirit.  He has recreated you there in the Image of the heavenly Man, the second Adam, the One who came down from heaven, even unto death, who has risen and ascended to the right hand of the Father.  Who has done all of this for you, in flesh and blood like yours.  It is for His sake that you have been  conceived and born anew of the Church, a new Mother, to be an offspring of the Lord by His grace.

But all of this has been accomplished for you by the way and means of the Cross, by the innocent suffering and death of God in the flesh.  It is by the sacrificial shedding of His holy and precious blood that you have been redeemed, bought back, and saved.

So the life that you have in Christ, both for now and forever — it is by faith and not by sight that you receive it and believe it.  You cannot see it.  You do not feel or experience it in this world.

No, what you see to begin with, is a teenage girl who has gotten pregnant before getting married; whose husband, according to the Law, could rightly stone her to death.  And then what you see is her little baby Boy when He is born, an ordinary baby Boy.  He needs to be diapered.  He needs to be fed.  He needs to be cleaned and taken care of and carried about, like any other little baby boy.  And what you see is that little Baby growing up, like any other little boy, and becoming a grown man — who is hounded by the powers that be in church and state throughout His life, until He is finally executed in shame and humiliation as a criminal, cursed by God and man.

Likewise, what you see and experience and feel in your own body and life, is sin and death, weakness and infirmity, and a wobbly faith that fluctuates from one day to the next, sometimes from one moment to the next.  And what you receive from the world is mockery for your faith, as though you were the greatest fool in all the earth.

Meanwhile, the whole world itself seems to be going crazy, spiraling into chaos and confusion all around you.  Eruptions of violence left and right.  Nay sayers and pessimistic gloom casters.

Where is your hope?  What shall become of you?  Where is your life in the midst of all this death?

The answer doesn’t sound like much or seem too promising.  It might not even seem pertinent.  But the truth of the matter is, that the Blessed Virgin Mary, that young daughter of David in Nazareth, she was chosen by God, the Lord almighty.  Not according to any merit or worthiness in her, but according to His mercy.  For He has remembered His mercy toward her and toward us all.

He has not forgotten His Covenant.  He has not forgotten His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.  He has not forgotten the Oath that He swore to David, that He would set a Son upon His Throne forever and ever.  In His mercy He has remembered.

And, remembering, He has come, and He has chosen to act.  According to His divine Wisdom, though it is foolishness to man, He has chosen to come to this young lady, to this dear St. Mary.  To conceive in her womb, that she would give birth to a Son, the only-begotten Son of God.  And this, not by the will of man, nor by the work of any man, but by the Word of Spirit of God.  By the powerful and gracious overshadowing of the Most High — His Name be praised forevermore.

In this most miraculous of Words, He who is true God — Light from Light, God from God, very God of very God, the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God — He has taken the flesh and blood of St. Mary to be His own flesh and blood, to become true Man.  To begin as an Embryo, a little Fetus, a tiny Human Being.  To live as the smallest of God’s Creatures, and to grow and develop in the womb of His own Mother.  To be given birth from her body in the fullness of time.

He is conceived and born of this Woman, and He is born under the Law, in order to become like you, both in your flesh and in your infirmity.  To bear your sin, to be your Savior.  To redeem you from the Law, from its burden and its bondage, from its accusation and its judgment.  To atone for your sins.  To reconcile you to God the Father.  To establish Peace in place of your warfare and unrest.  To give you the Holy Spirit and the Life everlasting in place of your death and damnation.

He has become like you in every way, save only without any sin of His own, so that you would become like Him: a son of God in Christ Jesus by His gracious adoption.

By His death, He has broken the power of death, and He has set you free from the grave’s dark prison.  In His bodily Resurrection from the dead, He has opened heaven to you, both your body and your soul, so that you shall not perish anymore forever.  So that you not die but live.

Though you are humbled, downtrodden, and brought low, He raises you up, and He exalts you by His Gospel.  He clothes you in the beautiful garments of His righteousness and His everlasting salvation through the full and free forgiveness of all your sins.  Daily and richly, for His own sake.

Though you may hunger and thirst now, and languish in poverty and want for the time being, He feeds you from His own hand with His own Self.  He places into your mortal body, into your hand, into your mouth, into your stomach, into your flesh and blood, His own holy Body and precious Blood.  The same flesh and blood conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, buried, and raised, and ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven.

Where He is, there you shall be.  You go with Him.  For in giving you Himself, in giving you His Body and Blood, in speaking His Word to you and forgiving your sins, He has bound Himself to you, and you to Him, as one flesh, as one body, of one blood.  You are a member of His holy Bride, and you are all-glorious in your holy wedlock to Him, who is the Lord.

Though your body grow weak and sick and die, though it decay and return to the dust from which it was taken, your body belongs to Him who is your Bridegroom.  You are not your own.  You were bought with a price, the precious blood of Christ, the Son of God.  Redeemed and purchased to be His own, not as a slave, but as a beloved Bride, and as a son of God the Father in Christ.

He shall raise you from the dead at the last, as He raises you now by His Gospel of forgiveness.  And you shall indeed be glorious in Him, immortal and imperishable.  You shall live with Him in His Kingdom, both body and soul, in His everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

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

14 August 2016

To Fear, Love, and Trust in the Lord

What you really want, deep down in your sinful heart, is to be left alone.  To live the life that you have chosen for yourself.  To do what you want, whatever you like, whenever you like.

So you’d really prefer to have God waiting in the wings, like a backstage prop man, ready to help you, to support you, to provide you with what you need — and then quietly to go away again.

It is amazing how those outside of the Church suppose that, by pretending God doesn’t exist, or by ignoring Him, He will just leave them alone to do their own thing.  It is even more amazing how many church-going people suppose that, if they log their time on Sunday morning, then the rest of that day, and the rest of the week, will be theirs to do with as they choose.  As though your life, your body and soul and all things, were not entirely from Him and completely dependent on Him.

But you can’t get away with sticking your head in the sand, like some sort of perverse, sinful human ostrich.  The fact that you do not look to God but seek to flee and hide from Him, does not mean that He fails to see you.  He holds you accountable for your words and actions.

And God will not simply leave you alone to go your own way.  He will not leave you to live in the idolatry of your own self-righteousness and selfishness.  He will not permit you that kind of peace and quietness and complacency, which are fleeting and short-lived, in any case.  He will not allow you to live and die forever in your sins — not without calling you back to Himself in repentance.

He comes and speaks His Word to you.  And His Word, to begin with, is a fierce Word.  It is the Word of His Law, first of all, which shatters the rock and consumes the stubble in your life.

The Lord God with His Word does not avoid confrontation and controversy, but brings division.  He divides families, where necessary for the sake of His Holy Name.  Even more, He divides you within yourself, slicing and dicing even between your bones and marrow.  He cuts you to the quick.  He stabs you through the heart to the depths of your sinful unbelief and false worship.

His Law requires the sacrifice of all the false gods and idols that reign in your life.  Even those false gods and idols that you have made of your family (or the family you covet).

Whoever loves father and mother, husband or wife, son or daughter more than Christ, is not worthy of Christ and cannot be His disciple.  Even those who are closest to you, who are God’s blessed gifts to you, are not permitted to remain as idols in your life.  They, too, must be dethroned and divided from your heart, in deference to Christ.

More than even that, the Lord requires the sacrifice of your own heart and life.  His Law crucifies you, and it puts you to death.  You shall not be allowed any longer to live for yourself, to live in your sin, to live in your pursuit of this world’s treasures and pleasures and kingdoms.  God demands your all, although not for His benefit but yours, that you would have your life in Him.

And it all seems rather shocking, because you don’t expect God to act like this.  But so He does.

There is, for example, that terrible command that He gave to Abraham, that he should take his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved — the one whom God had promised, for whom Abraham had waited, not just years, but decades — that he should take him and sacrifice him as a whole burnt offering on the Mountain.  And Abraham’s faith was sorely tested and tried by that command, as you also are tested and tried by the demands of His holy and righteous Law.

You would really much prefer to believe in the “nice” “friendly” god of dreams and Hollywood imagination.  The god who greets your every sin, your unbelief, your selfishness and lust with a grin; and, no matter what your vices, no matter what you do or fail to do, he says, “peace,” and “all is well.”  “Do what you like.”  “No worries, no pressure.”  “It’s all good.”

But the Lion of the tribe of Judah is not a tame lion.  He’s not a playful kitty cat.  He is a ferocious and powerful Hunter.  And He is a Warrior, a Man of War.  His Word is a fire and a hammer, and He is relentless in pursuing you and putting you to death to yourself, to your sin, and to the world.

His anger against sin, and His righteous wrath against the idolatry of the world, were not arbitrary to begin with, and they are not simply set aside with a wink and a nod.  His anger and His wrath are not abated until they have accomplished the purpose for which He vents them, and for which He pours them out upon the sons of disobedience in His judgment.

His purpose is not vindictive or petty, but, as hard as it may be to believe, His wrath also stems from His heart of love, and from His good and gracious will for your salvation.  He refuses to let you go your own way, and to stumble into eternal perdition.  So He thunders with His Law what is good and true and right, and what is the consequence of unbelief and sinful disobedience.  He rages against your sins, because He does not want you to perish eternally, separated from Him.

The Lord threatens to punish all who break His Commandments, because they are the way of life, the way of faith and love; whereas to live contrary to His Law is to pursue the path of death and damnation.  Therefore, you should fear His wrath and not disobey Him.  Repent.  Rend your heart.  Change your mind.  Cease and desist your wicked ways.  Become altogether other than you are.

But, what?  You cannot do it.  You cannot bear the weight of the Law.  You cannot endure the wrath of God and live.  You are broken from the inside out, and you cannot fix yourself.

The judgment of God, His holy Law, His perfect and righteous Law, His fire and His hammer, crush and destroy you with a terrifying finality.

It is precisely this crushing judgment of God which the Cross appears to be, in all the many and various ways that it is laid upon you.  In short, it does what the Cross is intended to do.  It crucifies you.  It puts you to death and buries you.

But this same crushing judgment is precisely what the Cross has also been and done for Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, your Savior and Redeemer.  And it is into this Crucifixion of His, even unto death and burial, that He was baptized by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River, once and for all.  So was He kindled and finally consumed by the fire and brimstone of God’s Law, though He alone lived according to it, kept and fulfilled it, and did not fail at any point.

He submitted to all of the Law’s demands and expectations — in perfect faith and holy love — and yet, He also submitted Himself to its judgment and punishments for all the sins of the entire world.

Thus, it is Christ Jesus who is crushed and put to grief, bruised for your iniquities, chastised for your sins, punished for your every evil thought and wicked word, for your persistent lack of love for God and your neighbor, and for all of your selfish, self-serving actions.

It is this firstborn, only-begotten, beloved Son who is put to death, in order to establish and seal God’s Covenant of peace and love with you.  By His Life of faith and love, and by His atoning sacrificial death, He reconciles God and man in Himself.

It is this Passover Lamb of God who is put to death in your stead, whose blood covers and protects you from sin, death, and the devil, and whose flesh feeds you and sustains you on the way.

And the death of Christ has opened up the way for you.  His sacrifice upon the Cross has liberated you from your slavery to sin and death, and brought you through the deadly waters of your Baptism into the Life everlasting of His own bodily Resurrection from the dead.

In this way, His Cross has turned all of your own suffering and your death inside-out and upside-down.  So the Cross you share with Him, by your Baptism into His death, does not simply crucify and kill you.  It does that, to be sure.  But it also redeems you, and it lifts you up in and with Christ, and it saves you by His holy, precious Blood, by His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

Here, then, in His House, in His Body and His Blood, there is peace and reconciliation with God, which far and away surpasses every human understanding and wildest imagination.

Here there is the glorious freedom of the sons of God in Christ, that true and lasting freedom of the Gospel, in which and by which you live.

No longer driven by your sinful lusts and desires; no longer enslaved by your tyrannical idols, which consume your time and energy, attention and affections, yet give you nothing real in return; no longer imprisoned by the fear of death; and no longer abused by the assaults and accusations of the devil — you are set free to love the Lord your God in the holiness and righteousness of Christ, to live and love according to His Word by the grace and power of His Spirit, and to walk in the way of peace, in faith, hope, and love.  For you follow Christ Jesus, bearing His Cross, even through death and the grave, into the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

His Word of the Cross is the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, by which He leads you through the waters of Baptism, through the wilderness of repentance, unto the holy and majestic Mountain of God.  He gathers you to Himself, the Lamb who has been slain, to eat and drink His Flesh and Blood in the presence of Almighty God.  And yet, not to die, but to live.

For it is by the Cross of Christ that God’s wrath and righteous anger have been spent and satisfied on behalf of the whole world, and quieted for all those who dwell in Him by faith in His Gospel.

So it is, that, in being called to fear the Lord your God, you are called to repentance.  Which does mean that you die, yes, but also that you live.  It is to fear, love, and trust in Him who has given you the new birth of water with His Word; who has poured out His Spirit upon you and clothed you in His own Righteousness; who daily and richly forgives you all your sins, and feeds you as a child of God at His own Table in His own House, both now and forever and ever.

For the time being, in this mortal life of yours on earth, you are being crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ Jesus, in order to be raised from the death of sin to the life of faith, in order to live before God in the righteousness of Christ, which is by His grace alone through faith in Him.

But already and always in Him, who died for you and rose again, your Baptism and your life are perfectly complete.  Indeed, you and your life are safely and securely hidden with Christ in God.

It is in the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the face of this crucified and risen Lord Jesus, that you see and experience the wide open arms, and the tender loving heart, and, yes, the smiling face of God, your dear Father in heaven.  He is pleased with you for the sake of His beloved Son.

It is in His Name and for His sake that I say to you:  Repent, and sin no more.  Do not die, but live.  Believe the Gospel.  Your sins are forgiven.  The Peace of the Lord Jesus be with you always.

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

07 August 2016

Your Life Is in the Lord's Hands

When the Lord Jesus Christ admonishes you not to worry, as He does several times over in this Holy Gospel, He is not thereby urging you to complacency or to be oblivious about the world around you.  He is not calling you to laziness, nor to go through life without paying attention to your job and your family and your responsibilities.  It is no better to be consumed by nothing at all than it is to be consumed by the pleasures and pursuits of this world.

When the Lord Jesus Christ admonishes you not to worry, He is urging you to live by faith.  To set your heart upon God.  To fear, love, and trust in Him for all that you need in all that you do.

You are not to worry and fret with great anxiety, which is idolatrous and unfaithful.  Such worry and fear are a kind of self-righteousness which destroys both faith and love.

Rather, living in faith, you simply do what you are given to do, wherever God has put you in this world, whatever your place in life may be, whatever your office and stations.  If you are a husband and father, then love your wife and family.  If you are a wife and mother, love your husband and your children.  If you are a son or daughter, honor your father and mother.  If you are a student, study hard and learn what you are given to learn.  In any case, do your job.  Do it in the fear of the Lord.  Do it, not as though your life depended on it, but because your life is given to you by God.

And as you live that life, with all its ups and downs, come what may, pray, praise, and give thanks to Him, your Father in heaven.  Give thanks to Him for your life, even when your life does not seem to be going as you would like it to go.  Pray to Him at all times, knowing that His hand opens to provide your every need.  Rely upon Him in all that you do.

And seek His Kingdom first of all, above all else.  That is to say, seek the righteousness of Christ, which is by grace through faith in His Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins.  That is where you daily find your life, your hope, and your confidence.  And clinging to that Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, invest your heart and life in the treasures of heaven, which cannot be taken from you.

You are not to establish a kingdom for yourself here on earth, which will be destroyed in any case.  You are to live as a stranger, and as an alien, as a citizen of another country, a citizen of heaven.  Look, therefore, to the City of God, and make your home there.  For your own dear Father is the Architect and Builder of that City, which shall never crumble or fall.

Hold on to your possessions here — those things that God has given to you and entrusted to your stewardship — but hold on to them loosely, and use them to serve your neighbor in love.  Not only your nearest and dearest kin, your family and friends, but even those who rub you the wrong way.  This is the true purpose for which God has put things into your hand.  Not simply to comfort yourself and please yourself, but to serve and support your neighbor in all of his needs, to the glory of your God and Father.  And above all, to serve and support the Church and Ministry of Christ to the glory of His Name and to the benefit of both yourself and your neighbors.

In living thus by faith and in love, you are living always ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, your heavenly Bridegroom, your Savior and your God.

Sounds pretty good, and easy enough, doesn’t it?  But how on earth do you do it?

Your heart is so divided and distracted, how shall you live in that way?  How shall you believe?

How can you be ready and waiting, fully dressed, and with your lamps lit at all times?  And how shall you not resort to worrying about yourself and your body, and your life, and what you should do, and what you haven’t done?  Are you doing enough?  Are you even able to do it all?

Truth be told, your sinfulness leads you in a different direction altogether — away from faith and love, into all manner of depravity and selfishness.  How, then, shall your heart be detached from the life that you know here and now?  How shall your heart let go of those things that you see?  Things that you possess, and things that you so desperately want to possess here on earth.

How shall your heart and mind be set free from the cares and occupations of this life, which so easily consume you day and night?  For do they not consume your attention, your time, and your energies, until there’s nothing left for anyone, and no faith in God?

How shall you ever set yourself, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, with single minded devotion, upon Christ your Lord?

You cannot do this thing for yourself.  It’s no good pretending that you can simply decide that this is how you’re going to be.  It’s not a matter of New Year’s resolutions, or turning a new leaf, or trying harder in order to do better; though, perhaps, all of these things may well have their place.

It is by repentant faith that you wait upon the Lord and live in Him.  But when you are called to repentance, and when you are called to faith, you are not being called to do something for yourself.  You’re not being given one more thing to work and worry about!  In many ways, that is the point.  You cannot help yourself.  You cannot save yourself.  You cannot turn your own heart of stone into a believing heart of flesh.  You cannot fix what is broken, because you are what is broken.

When the Lord calls you to repent, when He calls you to believe, to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, it is His Word that does it.  It is His Word that breaks you, in order to heal you.  It is His Word that raises you from the death of your unbelief and sin to love and trust in Him.

Repentant faith is not your own choice or decision.  It is not the product of your own works or efforts.  It is not something you can do for yourself.  It is given to you and worked in you by the Lord through His Word.  It is the divine service and gift of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In calling you to repentance, the Lord is calling you and wooing you to Himself.  Away from sin and death.  Away from your false belief, despair, and idolatry, to the true worship of God by faith in His Word and promises.  And in calling you to faith, He bids your heart to rest in Him, and to be at peace.  In forgiving you all of your sins, He gives you real life in the Body of Christ Jesus.

See, everything depends on God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The one true God who loves you.  Who takes care of you, because He cares for you.  Who provides for all of your needs.  Who even gets down on His hands and knees to serve you with gentle compassion.  And all of this He does for His own sake, because of who He is.  Because He is Love.  Because He loves you.

All of your work and worry, all of your anxious striving and fretting — none of this feeds you or clothes you.  It does not save your life, or preserve your life, or even extend your life by one hour.

But the Lord does all of this and more.

He does it for you daily and richly, even when you forget to pray, just as He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good.  Even in your idolatrous and unbelieving worry and fear, He still takes care of you.  Even when you’re railing away at Him, and yelling and screaming that He’s “so unfair,” He still takes care of you.  He keeps on loving you.

It is all for Jesus’ sake.  You are so valuable to God — more so than the birds and flowers by far.  Not because of your possessions and income, all of which come from Him in the first place.  Not because of your savings and investments and life insurance policies and inheritances and whatever else it is that you think has established your legacy in the world and secured your future.  None of that gives you any lasting value.  That is not where your life is found.  Not now, and not forever.

You are so valuable to God because the Father loves the Son, and for His sake He has created you to live with Him in the holiness of His Spirit.  It is for His sake that He has not cast you away from His presence but saved you.  He rescues you from sin and death, forgives you, and gives you life, all for the sake of Christ Jesus, the incarnate God, who shed His holy and precious blood for you to redeem you, to buy you back, to make you His own.  Who gave His Life as a Ransom for you.

It is in and with Christ Jesus, and for His sake, that the Father desires and has gladly chosen to give you the Kingdom.  As He has done in your Holy Baptism, and as He does, day after day and week after week throughout your life, by the Ministry of the Gospel and in the Holy Communion.

Though you are so small and weak and frail and helpless, the very Son of God has made Himself small and weak and frail and seemingly helpless on the Cross, in order to save you.  He has laid down His life on your behalf in order to raise you up with Himself, so that you may live with Him in His Kingdom — in His Righteousness, His innocence, His blessedness and holiness, forever.

For His sake, your dear God and Father in heaven surely does provide you with all that you need to support this body and life.  He has not failed you, and He will not fail you.

But He does abundantly more than this.  For both body and soul.  For ever.  For Life everlasting.

The Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself up for you, also cleanses you and washes you and dresses you in His Righteousness.  He covers you with Himself.  He adorns you as His own holy Bride, precious in His sight, like a diadem in the palm of His hand, without any spot or wrinkle or blemish or any such thing.  You are His very own, and in His love He cares for you, as a Husband for His Wife, as a Father for His children, as a Brother and a Friend.

With His Word of Holy Absolution, His free and spoken Word of forgiveness, He girds Himself, and He gets down on His knees as He did for His disciples on that Maundy Thursday, in order to cleanse your dirty feet.  And in cleansing your feet, He cleanses all of you.  He calls you and claims you as His own, again and again and again.  He forgives your sins and heals your infirmities of body and soul.  He strengthens and sustains your faith.  And with all of this, He gives you life —  Real Life that shall never be taken from you, because you cannot be taken away from Him.

The Lord Himself invites you to recline at His Table, here and now within His House, and here it is that He serves you.  He feeds you from His own hand.  He gives you to eat such a Meal that He has prepared in love for you by His own death.  He gives to you His holy Body and pours out for you His precious Blood.  What more could He possibly do or give than that?

You see how everything is turned around, inside out, and upside down.  It is not your work, but His.  The Son of Man has not come to be served by you, but to serve you.  And in doing so, He provides you with all that you need.  He cares for you and grants to you His Spirit, His Name, and His own Life in body and soul; so that, at whatever hour He comes, be it by day or by night, you are ready to receive Him in peace.  For you are His very own, both now and forevermore.

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

05 August 2016

Every Day Is a Good Day in Christ Jesus

There’s lots of hatred, harm, and violence in the world and in the news these days; and numerous attacks against the holy estate of marriage, in particular, escalating over these past few years.  It’s far too easy, and far too common, for any of us to become discouraged and dismayed, cynical and bitter, anxious and afraid.  But the Lord has offered us a powerful and positive example in Don’s Christian faith and life, in his attitude of faith and love, and in his faithfulness and care for his dear wife, Phoebe, even until his death.  Despite the difficulties that he faced, both in his own health and in Phoebe’s, he persevered in the hope and confidence of Christ Jesus and His Gospel.

By way of contrast, King Solomon has written in Ecclesiastes of life “under the sun,” having considered what it means if “what you see is what you get.”  He concludes that all the days and years and seasons of this life, whether in poverty or wealth, in foolishness or wisdom, are a pursuit of vanity — apart from the promise of the Resurrection and the Life everlasting in Christ Jesus.  Apart from Him, the Word-made-Flesh, crucified and risen from the dead, everything is vanity.

Solomon would have you fear the Lord and in the Wisdom of His Word and Spirit give up on the search for any meaning of your own devising in this life under the sun.  Not to despair or give up hope, but to find your real meaning in Christ and in the life that He has won for you in heaven.

This attitude and point of view make all the difference in the world in the way that you approach your job and the work that you are given to do.  Which, again, stands in contrast to the way that Solomon writes of hard labor and emphasizes the drudgery of work.  For in this he points to the emptiness of any job done purely for the paycheck, without any sense of purpose or enjoyment.

Driven by the false notion that you work for the purpose of making and preserving your own life, you’re always so conscious and concerned about what you have earned and deserved for yourself, that you lose sight of the Lord and forget that He alone is the gracious Giver of all good things.

Instead of receiving what you have from God in thanksgiving — and instead of sanctifying all that He has given you by putting it to use according to His Word and with prayer in His Name — you horde what you have as though it were yours by right and by merit, and you covet what you have not, as though you were being treated unfairly and short changed.  You make idols of the world and all its stuff, and you set your heart and mind on sin and death instead of the Living God.

Instead of recognizing that He feeds and clothes and provides for you, granting all that you need to support this body and life by grace — as He does indeed for even the birds and the flowers — you worry and fret and anxiously attempt to provide for yourself by all manner of strategies.

Yet, the fact remains that you can neither add to nor subtract from that which God has determined and accomplished in His divine Wisdom.  You cannot lengthen your days, nor prolong your life; nor can you invest your life with any lasting meaning or significance.  It is foolish and futile to try.

As Solomon describes, all your grasping efforts in this life are nothing more than “striving after wind,” which is to say that you are grabbing for something without any real substance, and trying to hang on to something that will only ever slip through your fingers.  Hence, the consequence of all your toil and striving is simply that your work becomes “painful” and “grievous” all your days.

It surely would have been very easy for Don to give himself over to such temptations and to fall into that trap.  And I fully expect there were those days and nights when he did for a time.  But by the grace of God, by His mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus, by the sustenance of His Word and Sacrament, Don was strengthened in his faith to live and to labor in peace and with contentment.

We can admire and appreciate that good example; and you should also learn from it to rely upon the Lord and His means of grace, instead of striving to make it on your own.

Otherwise, “even at night,” as Solomon writes, your heart and mind do not lie down and rest.  You know what he’s talking about.  Nights when you lie there in bed, desperately trying to sleep, while your mind, so to speak, is up pacing the floor and wringing its hands in worry.

Few things in life are worse than not being able to sleep, unable to rest from your work and your worries for even a little while.  And somehow, lying in bed at night, staring at the ceiling and fighting back the tears, Solomon’s point is painfully clear:  “Everything is Vanity!”

St. Paul understood that point, as well.  He writes in his Epistle to the Romans that all of “creation was subjected to futility.”  It was all declared “Vanity” by the Lord Himself, after the Fall, when He cursed the ground and life on earth because of sin.  The woman would have pain in childbirth, and the man would toil to harvest food by the sweat of his brow and the hard labor of his hands.

Of course, the ultimate curse was death itself — the great equalizer, which brings a halt to all of your attempts to do anything for yourself.  Here today and gone tomorrow.  Like a breath, you disappear into nothing.  You turn back to dust and blow away in the wind.  There’s no denying it.

But St. Paul also writes that creation was subjected to futility “in hope.”  In hope for a day when all would not be Vanity.  In the hope given by God Himself, even as He was cursing the ground and everything else “under the sun.”  The hope that He gave when He promised a Savior, the Seed of the Woman, who would crush the devil’s head and open up eternal life to all who trust in Him.

That hope was accomplished in Christ Jesus.  As St. Peter writes, “you were bought back from the ways of Vanity inherited from your father Adam — not with the gold and silver that you spend your life striving to get — but with the precious blood of Christ Himself.”

Apart from Christ, everything really is Vanity.  But in Christ, there is real meaning and a purpose to it all, a future and a hope for the blessings of eternity in the Resurrection.  In Him you have the promise of a life that will never end in dust and ashes.  In Him you find the confidence to live your life — even your life right here and now on earth — in peace and joy and happiness.

Thus, Solomon goes on to write about life under the sun, that there is nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in your work.  For God’s good creation has been restored by the coming of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  In the face of sin and death, the Lord recaptured the meaning of life as the true Man who lived as one of us — eating and drinking, and working as a Carpenter.  His life in the flesh shows beyond all doubt that your life, too, is meaningful and important to Him.

Not only that, but, by the Cross of Christ, that which you bear, and that which you suffer, is likewise not without purpose and significance.  Which is why Don’s labors and his sorrows were not tragic but sanctified by the life, death, and Resurrection of his Savior, Jesus Christ, no matter how it might have felt, and no matter how it might have looked or seemed to the world.

Our dear Lord Jesus Christ, by His life and by His death “under the sun,” has earned eternal life in body and soul for Don and for you in the Kingdom of His God and Father.  So now your work on earth is no longer an attempt to grab something for yourself.  For what could you possibly ever gain beyond the Kingdom of God?  No, you work simply to enjoy and use what God has given you to glorify His Holy Name and to serve your neighbor in love, as Don has served his neighbors.

What Don was taught and confessed in his confirmation verse is true.  As Christ has died for us and risen to new life in His Body, we live no longer for ourselves, but for Him who loves us.  You do what He has given you to do in this body and life on earth, even unto death, in the confidence that He provides all that is needed, and in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.

That is the real difference between “the man who is good in God’s sight” and “the sinner.”  The man who is good in His sight has wisdom, knowledge, and happiness.  But the sinner just works away to gather and store up wealth for himself, which he must eventually give up to someone else.  He dies in disappointment and disappears with nothing to show for all his striving.

The man who is good in God’s sight is not good or pleasing in himself, but he is reckoned good before the face of God.  That is the one who has, in faith, received credit for the goodness and righteousness of Christ Jesus.  And by that same faith, the one who pleases God also understands that everything in life is a gift of God, which he receives and uses in thanksgiving and in love.

God granted Don such faith by His Gospel–Word and Sacraments, so that he was able to look at his life as a privilege, and as an opportunity to enjoy the gifts that God had given him “under the sun,” awaiting in patience and in peace the day that arrived according to God’s will this past week.

The same Lord God who did not spare His own dear Son, but gave Him up for Don and for us all, has also freely given all good things to Don and to all His Christians.  Not only food and clothing for this perishing body and life on earth, but the Food and Clothing of Christ, His Body and His Blood, His Spirit and His Righteousness, His Resurrection, and His indestructible Life.

Which is why Don was able to approach every day as a good day in Christ, in the confidence of the Cross, and in the hope of the Resurrection.  “There are no bad days, Pastor,” he said to me on one of my visits earlier this year, just a few months ago.  Some days are better than others, but each and every one of them is a gift, an opportunity to love and to serve.  That is how Don received them, and sanctified them to himself by God’s Word and prayer, and used them, in the course of his lifetime, to serve his country, his employers, his wife and family, and his congregation.

That is the attitude of faith, with which you also are called to approach whatever God has set before you in this life, whether it be as a husband or housewife, a teacher or student, an accountant or a grandparent, or whatever you might be.  When you look at your life and all it brings your way as a gift from God, then you will have joy and satisfaction in everything that you do.

And when you trust that God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is taking care of you, and that He alone is your Maker and Preserver and the Giver of all things, then you are able to sleep peacefully at night, knowing that your life is safely and securely in His hands.  Which is really only practice for someday dying peacefully, knowing that your death is but a doorway into everlasting life, and, if you die before you wake, then the Lord your soul will take to Himself.

So it was that Don fell asleep in Jesus this past weekend, and even now, while his body lies in dust and ashes, it rests in peace and quietly awaits the Resurrection unto everlasting life.

So are you also given to wait upon the Lord for that day and that hour when He shall call you from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven.  Each and every day is thus a good gift and a gracious opportunity to live by faith in His Word and promises.  And everything is beautiful in its season.  Not for its own sake, nor in itself, but for Christ Jesus’ sake and in His Body of flesh and blood, in His Word and Holy Spirit.  For He has entered into time and space, into His good Creation, in order to redeem and sanctify all things and make them new by His Cross and in His Resurrection.

It was into that redemption, that righteousness and new creation of Christ, that Don was baptized all those years ago.  And that has made all the difference.  As he was thus glorified in Christ, and Christ in him, by his faith and life in the Gospel, so shall he also be raised in glory at the last to live forever in body and soul.  God grant you also that same Peace and Sabbath Rest in the promise of your Baptism, which is the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection and of the Life everlasting.

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