25 September 2016

The Rescue and Salvation of the Body in Christ

The Word of our Lord concerning the rich man and Lazarus follows shortly after His Parable of the Unrighteous Manager, as we heard last Sunday.  And with this Word He continues to catechize you in a similar point.  He teaches you how to think about and use the material blessings of this body and life, that is, in faith toward God and with fervent love for your neighbors in the world.

It is for the sake of Christ that you are to live in this way.  For He by whom all things were made has become flesh and makes His dwelling with you here.  He sanctifies your life in the body.

Those who deny the Incarnation of the Son of God — His becoming flesh by the Blessed Virgin Mary and His coming in the flesh of His Holy Word and Sacraments — likewise neglect to love their neighbors in the flesh with any real charity.  Their faith, so to speak, is a matter of the heart and of the head, but not of the body.  Consequently, they forget the significance of their Baptism; they neglect and ignore the preaching of Moses and the Prophets, of Christ and His Apostles; they despise the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion; and they say to their neighbor, if they speak to him at all, “Be warm and well fed,” without providing any food, clothing, or shelter.

Yet, the body does matter.  In fact, it is indispensable.  There is no salvation apart from the flesh and blood of Christ, the Son of God.  Nor does your soul have any contact with the one true God apart from the body.  You receive His grace, mercy, and peace by bodily ways and means.  The preaching of the Gospel comes to you by way of human words from the mouth of your pastor into the ears of your body.  Your soul is cleansed and forgiven as your body has been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism.  And you will rise from the dead to spend eternity in Paradise, both soul and body, because your body is fed with the life-giving Body and Blood of the incarnate Christ.

We sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are bodily creatures of flesh and blood.  Therefore, the Lord took flesh and blood to be His own by His conception and birth of St. Mary, in order to be your Savior.  He lived your life in His Body of flesh and blood like yours.  He suffered and died bearing your sins in His own Body on the Cross.  He offered His flesh and blood as the Sacrifice for your salvation.  He rose again bodily from the grave, and He bodily ascended into heaven.  And to this day, He feeds and nourishes His holy Church with His bodily Means of life and salvation.

So it is that you are called to love and care for your neighbor’s body and life with the good works of your body, with deeds of mercy, and with tangible gifts of charity for those who are in need.

And you should understand that what you receive, suffer, experience, and do with your body in this present world has significance for the life to come.  Because the body does matter.  It is not at all irrelevant or incidental to your Christian faith and life, but integral to the life that you are called to live by faith in Christ, unto the resurrection of all flesh and the life everlasting in Him.

But do bear in mind that your body is rescued and saved by the way of the Cross.  Those who are wealthy and comfortable in their body and life on earth may find themselves tormented forever in the very real flames of hell.  And those who now suffer great anguish and affliction, poverty and hunger in their flesh, may receive the everlasting comfort of God the Father in the age to come.

All things shall be accomplished in accordance with the Word of our Lord: “Blessed are those of you hungering now, for you will be satisfied; but woe to you rich ones, for you have already received in full your consolation.”  It is likewise as we sing week after week throughout the year with St. Mary in the Magnificat: “The rich are sent away empty, but the hungry are filled.”

Let there be no confusion or misunderstanding in these points, however.  The rich man of whom the Lord Jesus speaks was not damned because of his wealth.  Whatever he had in this body and life was a gift and blessing of God.  He was damned because he prioritized those gifts above the Giver of all good things.  He trusted in himself and in his stuff, and he presumed to use what God had given as though it were his own.  His lack of faith was then made obvious in his lack of love.

By contrast, poor Lazarus was saved, not by his poverty and misery and hard life, but rather by his faith in Christ in the midst of his poverty, suffering, and death.  He trusted the Lord to save him, not only from his sorry situation, but from his sins, from the death he deserved, and from all evil.

Such faith and hope in Christ Jesus are the whole difference between the rich man and Lazarus.

The very same criteria are true for you, as well, and nothing else finally matters.  The eternal destiny of your body and your soul is determined by your relationship to Christ Jesus in the flesh.

Even as He speaks the Words of this Holy Gospel, Christ the Lord is on His steadfast journey to the Cross in Jerusalem.  He is on His Way to sacrifice His Body and Life, His flesh and blood, for Lazarus; for the rich man; for scribes and pharisees; for publicans, prostitutes, and pagans; for His disciples, and for those lost sheep still to be found; for all whom He will call to Himself from yon and hither; for you, and for your neighbor, too, including the one whom God has now laid at your gate in need of food and clothing, in need of your love and mercy, in need of the Holy Gospel.

Purchased and cleansed by the Blood of God, living in His flesh as a member of His Body, are you serving that poor neighbor in his or her need?  Or do you step over your neighbor’s body on your way to and fro in your busy life?  Or do you walk around him, refusing to see him or his need?

Are the many gifts that God has entrusted to your stewardship being used to the glory of His Name for the benefit of others?  Or do you scrimp and save and horde whatever you can get for yourself, using and abusing everything of this body and life for your own personal comfort and benefit?

Take heed whose child you are: here in time, and hereafter in eternity.  Are you a child of Abraham, and of your dear Father in heaven, a son of God in Christ?  Or a child of the old Adam, exercising all of his sinful lusts and desires, and awaiting the inheritance of the rich man in Hades?

The fact is that you are no better off than Lazarus: poor and sick with sins, covered with sores, licked by dogs, and dying in the street.  Nor will your poverty and misery save you, for these are the rightful wages of your sins.  Of yourself, you merit nothing better than the rich man.  For you are proud in your sin, greedy and selfish with your possessions, neglectful of God and His grace.

For you, as for Lazarus, the hope of your life and your salvation is found in Christ Jesus alone.

He is the Rich Man clothed in purple.  And though He was so rich, yet, for your sake, He became poor, so that you might receive the riches of God in Him and feast sumptuously from His Table.

The same Lord Jesus Christ has suffered all that poor Lazarus suffered, and all the suffering and pain of the entire world.  He has suffered all that you have suffered, and all that you will suffer yet in this body and life under the Cross.  He has suffered all the pangs and torments of hell itself, so that you might receive the comfort and eternal bliss of the Resurrection to Abraham’s bosom.

The rescue and salvation of your body and soul, and of any and all who shall be saved, are found in Christ Jesus alone, for the sake of His suffering, in the reception of His riches, which are offered in the Gospel to rich and poor alike by His grace alone.  Thus, it is neither your riches, nor the lack of them, nor genealogy, but faith alone in Christ alone which makes of you a child of Abraham.

Even your faith is a gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.  You do not fear, love, and trust in Him by any choices or decisions on your part, nor by any miraculous demonstrations of divine glory, but rather by the unassuming Ministry of Christ in the flesh and blood of His Word and Sacrament.

Now, then, by such faith in Christ the Crucified, receive whatever riches, wealth, and comforts God may provide you in this body and life as gifts of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.  Receive them with thanksgiving.  Sanctify them to yourself by His Word and prayer.  Enjoy them in peace, and use them, to the glory of His holy Name, for the benefit of your neighbor — for the “Lazarus” at your gate, whom God so desires to bless and help through you, His own dear child.

The name “Lazarus” means “the one whom God helps.”  But God desires to help this man, here in time on earth, by the means of His children.  He provides the words and deeds and gifts of love that you and other Christians speak and do and give unto even one of the least of these, especially to your brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is for this purpose that the Lord your God has blessed you with all that you need for this body and life — and, really, with more than you need, with more than food and clothing.  Not to please and pamper yourself, nor to lord it over your neighbor, but in the Name of the Lord Jesus to serve and help the poor, who are with you always in this life.

Regrettably, your fallen and perishing flesh is perverted by your sin and death, by your appetites for the wealth of this world, and by your lack of faith and the fear of God.  You hunger and thirst for that which is temporary, so you are never satisfied.  Instead of turning to the Lord for all that you need, you turn away from Him in unbelief, and away from your neighbor, too, in selfishness.

You have heard how it was for that rich man, who was too proud, too wrapped up in his own self-importance, and too busy enjoying himself to be of any help or service to the poor man at his gate.  And yet, when that rich man found himself in hell, and Lazarus in heaven, in his sinful pride he still assumed that, if anything, Lazarus ought to serve him! — with a drop of water for his tongue, or a word of warning for his miserable family.  Even though, on earth, the rich man had not a crumb from his table to spare for poor Lazarus, nor even a kind word of mercy for him.

By contrast, the angels of God are not too great or proud to be of service to Lazarus.  They bear his frail body in their hands and cover his naked flesh with their wings.  They carry and escort him through the gates of heaven into the glorious presence of God, as though this poor man were their lord and master.  For Christ, the Son of God, who is their Lord, has taken this man’s flesh and blood to be His very own; He has borne his sins and carried all his sorrows in His own Body on the Cross; He has suffered poverty, hunger, and thirst, rejection by the powers that be, and death by crucifixion.  So it is that now those legions of angels who serve and attend Him — always eager and ready to do His bidding — they rejoice to guard, protect, and serve His frail, weak, and little ones, for whom He has given His Life and shed His Blood and opened the gates of heaven.

You, no less — but all the more, as you receive the Ministry of Christ and His angels — you must likewise be eager and ready to help and be of service to your neighbor in caring for his body and soul in every physical and spiritual need.  Affirm the goodness of the body that God has given to you and to your neighbor.  Be content with who and what you are in your body, whether as male or female, created, redeemed, and sanctified by the Holy Triune God.  So also be content with what you have, as much as God has entrusted to your stewardship.  Instead of coveting and resenting what God has given to your neighbor, use what you have to love and serve your neighbor in peace.

And wherever you have failed to live and to love in such faith, Repent.  And so also bear the fruits of repentance in Christ.  Return to Him, your Lord, by faith, and turn to your neighbor in love.

Thanks be to God, the Lord Jesus Christ is faithful in showing mercy to and helping those in need, including you.  Though you so often fail to feed the hungry, to dress the naked, to visit the sick and those in prison, He graciously persists in feeding you and clothing you and visiting you with forgiveness and life and salvation for your body and your soul, for now and for ever.  He does not leave you lying in the gutter, dying in your sins.  He provides you with the comfort and consolation of His Gospel, the cleansing of your conscience with the benefits of Holy Baptism, the removal of your sins with His spoken Word of Holy Absolution, and the health and restoration of your flesh and blood in preparation for eternity in heaven by the Body and Blood of His Holy Communion.

So it is that you are saved by His grace and fed from His Table this morning.  And so may the Lord attend you with His holy angels, while you are waking, while you are sleeping, even unto death; here in time at His Altar, and hereafter at home in the bosom of your God and Father forever.

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

18 September 2016

A Steward of the Rich Man's Things

You know your business, don’t you?  I’m sure that you do.  Whatever job you’re given to do, day after day, you are an expert at that task, and let no one tell you otherwise.

So, too, you know how to make your way in this world, or you’re well on your way to learning.  You know how the system works, and how to work the system.  You know how to connect the dots, to make ends meet, and to get what you really want, one way or another.

You’ve also figured out how to make friends.  You know what they expect from you, and what you can reasonably expect from them.  And likewise, notwithstanding all the ups and downs on your learning curve, you know what to expect from this life on earth, and what it takes to survive.

But do you know the business of God?  Do you know how things work in His Kingdom?  Do you know what to expect, and what is expected of you, on the way that leads to the Life everlasting?

The fact of the matter is that, like it or not, you are a steward or manager of a Rich Man’s things.  Your life is not your own, no matter what you may kid yourself into thinking.  Everything that you have is on loan from God.  It is entrusted to you, not for the purpose of feeding the appetites of your fallen flesh, but for the glory of God in the good that He does to you and to others.  You are to use His gifts in faith before Him, and in love for your neighbors.  That’s your job.

And you should take heed and take to heart, there will be an accounting of your stewardship.  There shall be a day of reckoning, when the ledger of your body and life in this world is presented to the Lord your God.  And there will be the facts to speak for themselves.

How have you spent your time?  And, yes, how have you spent your money?  Where have you invested your energies?  To what or whom have you given your affections?  What have you done with God’s things?  And what have you done for those people whom God has placed around you?

In short, who has been your master?  Who has been calling the shots?  Is it you?  Or the Lord?

Do not suppose that setting aside an hour a week, or ten hours a week, or even several hours a day “for the Lord” is adequate or somehow generous on your part.  Who are you kidding?  If there is any portion of your life that you regard as your own, then you are robbing from your true and rightful Lord, who has created you and given you life and everything that you have.

Have a care how you think about tithing, as well, and about almsgiving.  Perhaps you have shied away from any such notions altogether, because they have sometimes been taught and practiced legalistically.  And to be sure, do not at all suppose that tithing will atone for your sins, justify you before God, or purchase your place in His Kingdom.  But having been forgiven freely by Christ Jesus, made righteous by His grace through faith in His Gospel, and named a child of His God and Father in your Baptism, do not at all suppose that you are now to live as a god unto yourself.

As for tithing, ten percent of your income is not a bad guideline, a starting point.  It is surely not too much.  But if you are hard pressed, commit some significant percentage of your income as a regular offering to the Lord, as an exercise of faith and love.  And if you are able, do not hesitate to go well beyond ten percent.  Or, if you do not think so readily in terms of percentages — if your income and expenses are variable through the year — then consider setting apart as much for the Church and Ministry of Christ as you spend on your hobbies, your entertainment, your vacations, and your luxuries in life, whatever goes beyond your food and clothing and safe shelter.

And let your almsgiving likewise be as generous as you pamper yourself.  After all, if you can find the means to pay for your pastimes, for ball games and video games, for going out to eat or going to a show, then you can also find the means to care for your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Only, whatever you do, realize that you are not buying God off, nor are you earning His favor, since you are using and investing His riches, not your own.

Be very clear on this point: God doesn’t need your stuff.  It’s already His stuff in the first place.  But God does require your heart.  All of it.  And because you are His steward or manager, He has entrusted you to live and serve according to His good pleasure, that is, according to His Word.

The Lord looks not only at what you accomplish, but at whatever drives you to accomplish it.  When you proceed in selfishness, it may result in impressive things before men, but the Lord your God is not impressed.  Nor is He pleased by your selfishness and self-serving behavior.

The Lord does not measure things by the law of the jungle.  He does not teach you to look out for yourself first, and for your neighbor only when it appeals to you or suits your plans.  He calls you to live by faith in Him alone, and for His sake to sacrifice your entire life in love for your neighbor.  He charges you to love even your enemies, and to pray for those who persecute you.  That is how you are to occupy your days and nights, your life, your time, your energy, and all of your stuff.

That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.  And the opposite is true, as well.  That which is highly esteemed before the Lord is detestable in the eyes of men.

Consider the Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the living God.  Though He was rich, yet, for your sake, He made Himself poor, so that you could inherit the riches of God in Him.

He came down from heaven to become true Man, and not only that, but to bear the sins of the world in His own Body, to hand Himself over to the Cross.  He liquidated Himself.  He spent it all.  He gave Himself away.  Not for those who loved Him, but for you, though you were His enemy.

And the world says in response, “Jesus, you’re a bloody fool! That’s no way to live!”

And yet, it is the way that God lives.  It is how He has lived for you.  He humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death, in order that you might live with Him in His Resurrection.

You also, then, have this heart, mind, and spirit of Christ in you.  For this is how you are to live.

For God’s sake, be generous to your neighbor, even if you don’t like him.  Use the stuff that God has given you to love and serve those around you who are in need.  And don’t tell me there are no people like that.  There are.  You know there are.  Love them.  Don’t just speak nice words to them.  Do things for them.  Go out of your way.  Give up some of your time.  It isn’t your time, anyway.

Forgive.  Above all, forgive.  Forgive those who have trespassed against you, as your dear Father in heaven forgives you.  That is the coin of the realm in the Kingdom of God, within His one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church on earth: Forgiveness of sins.  It is not hoarded and hidden away.  It is spent freely.  And the more forgiveness is given, the more it multiplies and grows.

You are to exercise your stewardship in faith and love.  That is the course that you are given to follow.  So, then, trust in God, who has given you all things to begin with.  Do not be afraid that if you give some of it away, He’s going to deprive you.  He’s not going to stop being generous.  He has no problem with generosity.  This is what characterizes Him.  It flows from His very nature.

If you are generous with what the Lord your God has entrusted to you, do not worry, do not despair.  He knows how to feed you.  He knows how to clothe you.  He knows how to take care of you.  And because you are His very own, He does it all for you with charity and compassion.

Even when you are not grateful; even when you fret and fidget and forget to say thank you; even when you proceed as though you have gotten everything you have for yourself, your dear Father in heaven still has this overflowing abundance of generosity for you in Christ Jesus.  And it is such generosity that you are to have for your neighbor.  Indeed, the Lord’s generosity with you is not for your benefit only, but for the benefit and blessing of your neighbor, as well.

So, what is that going to look like?  What is that kind of faithful stewardship of your life and that kind of godly generosity in your life going to look like?

Well, here’s the thing: It looks like the stewardship of the Mysteries of God.  Which is to say that it looks like the Ministry of the Gospel, like the administration of the Means of Grace.

The right way to use the stuff that God has entrusted to you looks like the way your pastor uses the Means of Grace on your behalf: Who has baptized you and baptizes your children; who feeds both you and them with the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus; who speaks the Word of Holy Absolution and forgives you.  Your pastor gives these things of God to you without charge, without cost.

The stewardship of the Mysteries of God, that is the pattern by which you are called to exercise the stewardship of your body and life, and of all that the Lord your God has placed into your care.

It is not like the scribes and Pharisees, who are lovers of money and lovers of praise from men.  It is rather like the Gospel, because it is the life that is lived by and from and in the Holy Gospel.  It is like the Lord Jesus, coming down from heaven and giving Himself for you and to you, and to and for others, also.  That is how the Lord administers His true riches.

And that is how you are to manage and administer the Rich Man’s things.

It may seem foolish in the eyes of the world.  Well, so be it.  You ought to look foolish in the eyes of the world.  Your Lord Jesus did, and so He does.  The world still thinks this is all a bunch of nonsense.  But living by faith, your hope is in Christ.  And your hope shall not be disappointed.

Truth be told, your stewardship is not what it ought to be.

Surprisingly, shockingly, the Lord nevertheless continues to deal with you by the stewardship of His Gospel.  The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, your Savior, He is the faithful Steward and Manager of His Father’s things.  For His Name’s sake, He praises you and blesses you, because He has poured out the Spirit generously upon you and adorned you with His perfect righteousness.  He has given Himself for you.  He has reconciled you to His God and Father.  He has been a Friend to you in need.  And having befriended you in love and called you to Himself, He forgives you all of your debts, all of your trespasses and sins, all of your faults and failings.

In His own faithfulness and righteousness, He who gave Himself up for you in love, continues to give Himself to you with the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  And for His own sake, for the sake of His divine and holy Love, He welcomes you into His House, into His dwelling, both here in time, where He feeds you at His Table in His Church, and hereafter in eternity, where you shall feast upon the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb in His Kingdom forever and ever.

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

11 September 2016

To Seek and to Save the Lost

There are lots of different ways in which you can get yourself lost.  If not in the location of your body, then in your heart and mind, in your relationships and undertakings.

For example, you may be listening to a lecture, a presentation, or even a sermon, and yet, although your ears are hearing the words, you don’t understand them.  You are completely lost.

Or you may be in the middle of a game you’ve never played before, a complicated board game or a sport that you’re not familiar with; and despite your best efforts and good intentions, you’re just not sure what’s going on, or what you’re supposed to be doing, how to play, or how to win.

You might also be lost in the middle of a crowd, even within your own home and family, especially if you’re at odds with someone (or with everyone around you).  You might be painfully aware of where you are, and yet feel totally alone and terribly afraid.

Meals, in particular — which ought to be a place and occasion of belonging, of peace and security, of rest and rejoicing in the grace and goodness of God and the company of family and friends — can sadly become a battleground and a tricky terrain to navigate.  If you’re out of sorts in yourself, or with those eating at the same table, you may find that you have no appetite, or that your food is like gravel in your throat and your stomach.  Whether you attempt polite conversation or quietly stare at your plate until the ordeal has passed, you may wind up with indigestion or heartburn.

Location, location, location, yes.  But where your heart is at is more crucial than the little blue arrow on your GPS.  The Lord looks at the heart and not so much at the outward appearance.  Your body can be in the right place at the right time, and yet your heart and mind be far from home.

So, then, is your heart at home here in the Lord’s House, as you recline here at His Table?  Is your heart at home, and are you at peace, as you listen to His preaching and teaching?  Do you know what to do and how to live according to His Word, His Law and His Gospel?

St. Paul has taught you this morning: The Law is not intended to make you righteous.  If you try to use the Law to justify yourself, and to control or condemn your neighbor, then you are lost, and you don’t know what you’re doing.  You do not understand the things about which you make such confident assertions.  Your heart is not in the right place.  Your mind, for all its knowledge and intellect, does not have the wisdom which begins and continues with the fear of the Lord.

The Law is used lawfully when it reveals that you are a sinner.  And in showing you that you are a sinner, God is merciful.  For if you are a sinner, then Christ is your Savior, and in His love He calls you to repentance, that you may be saved by His grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

And as for your life in the world, the Law shows you how to love your neighbor.  The Law curbs and guides you.  Not so that you can pick apart your neighbor’s life and show him all his faults and trespasses, but rather so that you know how to love your neighbor.  How to do him good and not harm.  How to care for his body and his possessions, his family, his good name and reputation.

So, if you recognize your sin, repent of your sin, and love your neighbor in the keeping of the Lord’s Commandments, then you are hearing and using His Word lawfully, and you are living in the way of wisdom and righteousness, in the fear and faith of God.  You are at home and at peace with your God and Father.  You are right where you belong.  But, again, if you are using the Law to justify yourself, and if you are trying to control and condemn your neighbor, then you are lost to the Lord and His Love, and you have wandered far and wide from the Kingdom of God.

Yet, there is this one Man, Jesus Christ, who is not like any other man in the way that He acts and in the attitude of His heart, in His faith toward God, and in His love toward all of His neighbors.

There is no shepherd in his right mind who would risk ninety-nine sheep to go and find just one.  But this one Man who is among you does exactly that.  He leaves the ninety-nine behind, in order to go searching for, seeking out, and finding the one that is lost.

He leaves the ninety-nine who appear to be doing just fine, who imagine they are righteous, out in the desert wilderness, where they continue to hear the preaching of St. John the Baptist, calling them day after day to repentance, faith, and love.  Because they, too, are lost, each in his or her own way, until they cross the waters of the Jordan into the promised Land and ascend the hill of Zion to abide in the Temple of the Lord.  In the meantime, in the wilderness, they must live, as you must live, by the Word of His mouth, by the water from His Rock, and by His Bread from heaven.

It is not so different when you have wandered away and gotten yourself into trouble elsewhere.  Wherever you are lost, whether near or far away, the Lord Jesus preaches repentance to you, and by His Law and His Gospel He seeks you out, in order to find you and bring you home to Himself.

He preaches repentance for the forgiveness of your sins.  He draws you to Himself, and He leads you as your Shepherd into the Way of Life, which is the Way of His Cross and Resurrection.

So the Pharisees and Scribes have got one thing right: This Man receives sinners, including you.

He calls you to come and receive His forgiveness of all your sins.  Real forgiveness for real sins.  Not to continue in them, but to be set free of your sins, no longer controlled or tyrannized by them.

He calls you from your sham life of sin and death to share His Life, and to live with Him in His own House, both now and forever.  He calls you to eat and drink with Him, at His Table, the Food and Drink that He provides, which He serves Himself.  And not only is He your Waiter, but He is also your Meal.  He feeds you with Himself.  So it is that God is your nutrition.  God is your Food and Drink.  Your soul and body are fed and nourished on Him.

It is for this purpose that He has taken your sin upon Himself, upon His own shoulders, and given Himself even unto death upon His Cross.  So has He become your Scapegoat and your Sacrifice of Atonement.  For He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who has offered Himself unto God and is received as a sweet-smelling Sacrifice.  For God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them.

So it doesn’t matter where you are — in your body, in your mind, or in your heart — the Son of God has taken your sins upon Himself, and He has died for your sins, atoned for them, and made propitiation for them.  And since God raised this same Jesus from the dead, you know that all of those sins, yours and everyone else’s, are forgiven.  Live no longer in your sins, therefore, but in your crucified and risen Lord Jesus.  Die to your sins, and let your sins be dead to you forever.  They are not permitted to have the last word concerning you.  Your life is found in Christ Jesus.

To that end, Jesus also takes you onto His own shoulders and brings you home with Himself by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection, by the preaching of His Atonement, which is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.

By this preaching, He exposes your sins in order to extract them from your body and life, from your heart, mind, and flesh, in much the way a surgeon opens up your body to extract whatever may be in there causing you a problem, making you sick, and threatening to kill you.  The Lord Jesus opens you up with His Law, in order to remove your sins, to heal you with His gracious Gospel of forgiveness, and to bring you home with great joy and gladness.

Already here and now, His House is your home.  This is where your heart reclines in safety and peace, along with your body, in order that Christ may feed you in both body and soul with Himself.

In yourself you are lost, but He is not.  And He has taken His stand with you, so that you may also be at home with Him where He is.  No matter where you may end up here on earth, He has risen and ascended and ever lives to make intercession for you before the throne of God in heaven.

It is in Him — in His Redemption, in His Righteousness, in the repentance that He has suffered and accomplished in Himself, in His own Person, in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours, by His Cross and Resurrection — that you are found and rescued, that He rejoices over you, and that He brings you home, a member of His Body and Bride, the Church.

What sort of woman is it that lights a lamp and sweeps the house and searches carefully until she finds what is missing?  It is this Bride of Christ, who is like her Husband.  It is the Holy Church, of which you are a member by His grace.  So, then, as He rejoices over you, and over all of those whom He has found and carried home, rejoice now with Him.  Rejoice with Him by feasting at His Table on the Food that He has prepared and provides.  And rejoicing with Him in His Holy Supper, so also rejoice with Him by seeking out your neighbors, your brothers and sisters, and bringing them home to Christ, to the Father’s House, to the household and family of God.

How shall you go about seeking the lost?  It’s really nothing more nor less than simply being and living as a Christian, as one whom the Lord has brought home in heart and mind, body and soul.

You live and you love in the freedom of the Gospel.  And you have such freedom because your life does not depend on you.  It is found in Christ.  You live in the freedom of the Gospel and in the joy of faith, because success does not depend on your cleverness or efforts, but it is already yours in Christ.  You will not fail or fall flat on your face, even if you do look like a fool and the whole world laughs at you.  What of it?  Christ does not laugh at you, but in His love He cares for you.

Live in the joy of faith and the freedom of the Gospel.  Then you will be the lamp that is lighted by Christ and His Church.  Most basically, forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you.  He may not welcome or accept your forgiveness, but forgive him anyway.  Forgive him from a heart set free by Christ the Good Shepherd.  Forgive him because you are safe at home with the Lord.  And in your forgiveness, your neighbor will hear and receive the Gospel.

Confess the Word of Christ that you have heard and received.  And don’t suppose that you have to be too clever about it.  Confess the Word that you have heard, according to the pattern of sound words that you have received from the saints who have gone before you in the faith of Christ.  And trust that His Word is living and active, even when spoken on your trembling and fearful lips.

So also, bring your neighbor with you to Church.  That is most surely the way you bring your neighbor home to Christ, and to your God and Father in Christ.  If you are a parent, bring your children.  If you are married, bring your husband or wife.  If you are a child still at home and your Mom and Dad are reluctant to come, ask them to bring you, anyway; it is surely more important and more precious than the toys and tasty treats you beg them for.  If you have adult siblings, or adult children, urge them and encourage them to go to church, and help to make that possible.

Do what you can, from within your own vocation and stations in life, to bring your neighbor to Church, because it is here, in the gathered congregation of Christ’s people, in the Lord’s House, at the Lord’s Altar, that the Lord’s friends and neighbors are gathered together with His family to eat and drink with Him, to recline at His Table, to be fed from His hand, and to live by His grace.

That is why you are here, yourself: To receive, enjoy, and benefit from His gracious hospitality, unto the life everlasting of your body and soul in the Body of the one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Even more important, it is for this reason, for this purpose, that He Himself is here with you in His Church on earth: That He might love you with His Word and with His Supper.  It is indeed for this great benefit that He, your Good Shepherd, has sought you out and found you, and called you to Himself, and gathered you up into His arms, onto His shoulders, and brought you home, rejoicing.

Have no fear, little lamb, but eat and drink, give thanks to God, and live here with your Lord.

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

04 September 2016

The Scandalous Word of the Cross

To be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus.  And there simply is no middle ground.  It is not possible, and it does not work, to be a part-time Christian.  You can’t parcel yourself out to be a disciple and follow Jesus some of the time, and to be your own man or your own woman the rest of the time.  If you are to be a Christian, you belong to the Lord Jesus entirely.

To be such a Christian, to be a disciple of Jesus, costs you everything.  There’s no holding back.  You are to learn from Him how to live, and how to die, in the fear, love, and trust of God alone.  Above all things.  Before all that is precious in your life.  Indeed, above and beyond your life itself.

He demands it all.  Don’t try to sneak out from under His Word to you this morning.  He does not pull any punches in what He says.  And He’s not just speaking rhetorically, either.  You must take up the Cross and follow Jesus.  To suffer and die with Him.  To give up your family, your home, your possessions, and your very life, for the sake of Christ Jesus.

And it’s not because He’s petty and selfish.  When God says, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God,” He doesn’t mean the sort of jealousy that burns within your heart and mind and flesh.  He demands that you have no other gods because He desires to give you life.  He would have you receive everything from Him.  He forbids you to worship other gods because there are no other gods who forgive your sins and save your life.  He alone is your Life and your Salvation.

What He commands, He commands for your good, not His own.  He needs nothing from you.  You need everything from Him.  And to have anything from Him, you may not rely on anything else.

Your home and family, all of your possessions, your very life, your job, your strength, your skills — none of it can save you.  Whatever kingdom you establish for yourself on earth will fail and fall and turn to dust.  And all of the world’s enticements and pleasures will fail you, as well.  They hold out great promises, but they are nothing.  They are idols.  They are false gods.  And they, too, will be destroyed by the one true God, the Maker and the only Judge of all the heavens and the earth.

To be a disciple of Jesus, then, is to put yourself at odds with the world around you.  It is to suffer hostility, persecution of whatever sort may come.  It is certainly to forsake any kind of popularity.

Jesus seems determined at times, as in this Holy Gospel, to alienate the crowds.  To prevent Himself from becoming popular.  Just when there’s all these people following Him, wanting to hear what He has to say, to see what He can do, He turns around and says something like this!

Now, do not say to yourself, “Oh, well, yes.  Actually, I do hate a number of my family members.  Can’t stand them, in fact.  They’ve really been mean to me, and they totally get on my nerves.  So this Word of Jesus is quite comfortable and agreeable.”

You condemn yourself with your own words, with your own thinking and the attitude of your selfish, sinful heart.  The Lord Himself commands you to honor your father and mother, to love and cherish your spouse, to care for your children.  But, what, then, of His Word today?  It is to say that even these, who are to be your nearest and dearest, dare not be given precedence over Him, nor even come close to competing with Him for your time, attention, energies, and priorities.  No, in deference to the Lord Jesus Christ, even those who belong to your highest vocations in life and to your first and foremost duties on earth, are to be set aside.  Not family but Christ is all in all.

He thus uses your family as the point of comparison at which He drives so forcefully to the heart of the matter.  Not because it’s okay for you to dislike or disregard your family, or to treat your neighbor badly, but because even those who are to be most precious to you in this body and life dare not become idols in your heart and mind, in your affections, attitudes, and activities.  You’re not permitted to have any such false gods.  Not family.  Not ballet or boy scouts.  Not movies or music.  Not sports or hobbies.  Not entertainment, work, or socializing, or whatever else your passion in life may be.  Nothing is permitted to call the shots for you but the Word of the Lord.

You are to hate even yourself.  Which is not to speak of depression, despair, or suicidal ideas, nor of a poor self-image, dissatisfaction with your skills and place in life, or any other discontent.  It is rather to acknowledge that you are not your own but the Lord’s.  Your body and life belong to Him by right, along with your heart and mind, your thoughts and feelings, and all your words and actions.  All of this, and all of you, must be submitted to the Lord your God and sacrificed to Him.

So, can you pay that cost?  Or, have you ever done so?

The short and simple answer is, No.  You can’t.  You don’t.  You never have.

All of your good intentions and resolutions notwithstanding, you cannot do this of yourself.

You cannot sacrifice yourself.  You cannot let go your love for the things of this world.  When you are faced with it, when it comes down to it, you can’t let go.  Because you do fear, love, and trust in other gods.  You depend upon your money, your income and savings.  You rely upon your family and friends.  You take comfort in yourself and your stuff.  You think that you are smarter than God, or at least much wiser when it comes to your own situation.  You think you are special.

And yet, Jesus says that all of this must go.  That you and all of these false gods of yours must die.  That whatever is not Him must be hated by comparison to your love for Him.

But you can’t do it.  You can’t even start.  You certainly can’t finish the job.  You can’t afford it.  You cannot win.  You’re not inclined to try.  You can’t handle this call and cost of discipleship.

You would claim to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus.  But examine yourself.  Examine your heart.  Examine your life.  Examine the way you think, the way you speak, the way you act.

What is your driving care and concern as you go about your days and stay up too late at night?  What do you live for?  And what are you willing to give up your life and die for?

You are called to be the salt of the earth.  But you do not season the world around you, because you would rather be the toast of the town, and so you take on the taste and flavor of the world.  And the world, when it looks at you, is hardly able to tell if you are a disciple of Jesus or not.

Repent.  And listen.  Hear and heed the Word of Jesus.

You cannot make of yourself a disciple.  You cannot do it.  Yet, if you want to live, you must take up the Cross and follow Jesus, in order to learn from Him, to die and rise and live with Him.

You cannot build your own tower.  Whatever you might manage to construct would be your own tower of Babel, which would have to be destroyed.

You cannot win the battle or the war with which you are faced.  And yet, you don’t have the option of avoiding it, either.  You will not get out of it alive.  Nor will you escape the righteous judgment of the Lord, the true and only God.  You must face the enemy, but you cannot win that fight.

It isn’t a matter of coming up with a budget, or pinching pennies, or tightening your belt, or cutting corners.  There’s no budget with percentages for this, and portions for that, and some amount set aside for the Lord.  Your time, treasures, and talents belong in their entirety to Him.  What you set aside for the support of His Church and Ministry on earth should be the first fruits of your life, your stewardship of His stuff to the glory of His Name and for the good of His people.  Your alms for the benefit of your neighbor are likewise a priority in the fear and faith of God, and should not be viewed as an afterthought when you happen to have some leftovers at the end of the month.

But, really, whatever you do with all of your finances, all of your days, and all of your abilities, is to be an offering, a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and a stewardship of the Lord’s own property.  In this case, it really is all or nothing.  You are a disciple of Jesus — or you are not.  And if you are not a disciple of Jesus, then you have no real life at all, no matter what you may do with yourself.

Ironically, it’s die now or die later.  You must be put to death to live, or live now and die forever.

That paradox is found in the Cross of Christ Himself.  For having confronted you with this hard Word of His, this impossible demand of the Law, this requirement of single-minded devotion and allegiance to Him — He then goes on to do for you what you could never have done for yourself.

He has gone to face your enemy in battle, and He has won the victory on your behalf.  He has defeated all of your foes.  He has rescued you from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  And He has done it by sacrificing Himself, liquidating everything, giving up His own Body and Life, and suffering the righteous wrath of His Father against the sins of the whole world.

All of this He has done for your benefit, although you were His sworn and bitter, mortal enemy.  And having done this, He sends His delegation to you, to speak Peace, to speak reconciliation.  He comes to you with gentle mercy, and He gathers you into His Church with forgiveness of sins.

It is by His death that He has established the foundation of His Church.  And He builds it, and He completes it — in Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen — for you.

He builds and preserves His Church by the Gospel, and by His grace He brings you into His Church to live with Him in His Kingdom.  To live with Him in His Resurrection and Ascension, in the Father’s gracious and glorious presence.  To receive every good thing forever from His hand.

He calls you and brings you into His Church by the way and means of His Cross, by the Word of His Cross and the Fruits of His Cross.  Which is why your life in this world is shaped by the Cross.  Not for destruction, but for divine life with God in Christ Jesus.

He does it by the Word of His Apostles, who were themselves a bunch of martyrs, by and large, who went to their deaths preaching the Gospel of Christ.  But even in death they were not defeated.  Their word, though spurned and rejected, was and is the Word of Christ, and it accomplishes the purposes for which He speaks it.  Which is ultimately to give you life in His Resurrection.

To this end, He speaks to you His Word of the Cross.  It exposes your sin, condemns your unbelief, and puts you to death.  It crucifies you, and it buries you with Christ, but all for the purpose of raising you up with Him through the forgiveness of all your sins.

So has He done for you in Holy Baptism, wherein He made you His Christian, His disciple.  And He keeps you in those waters, He keeps you in the faith, by the preaching of His Word.  Day after day after day, He keeps on preaching.  His Law condemns you, but His Gospel forgives you.

It is an irony and a paradox that you must be killed by this Word of the Cross in order to live.  But so it is, and here is where and how it happens.  Here is how it is done.  Not by your resolving to do it for yourself.  Not by trying to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.  Not by heroic service or deeds of valor on your part.  But allowing the Lord to have His way with you, with His Word.

He crucifies you to the world and to yourself.  But by His Cross He also gives you life with Him.

And here is the greatest and best irony of all: In this glorious freedom of forgiveness, this liberty of the Gospel, He has set you free to receive and use the very things that His Word has first of all required you to give up.  When He has set your heart free from idolatry, then you are able to receive, embrace, enjoy, and give thanks to God for all of His good gifts in this body and life, for His good creation, for your family and friends, for your home and your possessions, and for all that He entrusts to your stewardship.  You can receive these creatures of the Lord with thanksgiving, and sanctify them to yourself by His Word and prayer, and make use of them in the wondrous liberty of faith — precisely because your life does not depend on any of these things.  Your life depends on Christ, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.  The One who calls you by His Word to follow Him through death into life is faithful, and He will surely do as He has promised.

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