31 October 2016

The Son of God and Abraham Sets You Free

Jesus addresses this Word, in the first place, to those Jews who believed in Him.  They had that much right, superficially at least, though they did not yet realize what it really means or requires.

What Jesus here declares and promises, not only then, but also here and now to you, pertains to Himself and His Word.  That is, and was, and always will be the decisive matter.  He and what He says are what it’s all about.  Everything depends on Him, and therefore on His Word.

Would you be a Christian and share His Life and Salvation?  Well that you should.  Here, then, is how: You have Jesus as your Lord, you abide in Him and He abides in you, by remaining in His Word; by hearing it, believing it, confessing it and praying it, and living by faith according to it.

By this way and means of His Word, you follow Him as a disciple to the Cross, to be crucified and die with Him, and so also to rise and live with Him, both here in time and hereafter in eternity.

Thus, by His Word, by faith in His Word, you are given to know the Truth, which is Jesus Christ Himself, His Father and His Spirit, in whom alone there is true freedom and eternal life.

So, again, everything, everything, everything — including the sixteenth-century Reformation and the life of the Church in our own day and always — everything depends upon Jesus, the incarnate Son of God.  He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  There is salvation in no one other than Him, nor at all apart from Him.  Apart from Christ Jesus, there is only sin, death, and damnation.

Consequently, what Jesus proclaims in this Gospel strikes your old Adam with the judgment of the Law, because He leaves no room for any other way of life or salvation than Himself and His Word.  He takes away all of your self-righteousness, so that you might receive, by grace alone, through faith alone, that righteousness which is in Christ alone, prior to any and all good works of yours.

You cannot rely upon yourself, nor upon anything else but Jesus, who is with you by and with and through His Word.  And that is the case, not only once upon a time, not just to begin with, nor only for a little while, but forever and ever, Amen.

His Word not only calls you in repentance to the waters of Holy Baptism; it brings you through those waters, and it leads you from those waters throughout your life in the daily dying and rising of contrition, repentance, and faith in the forgiveness of sins.  It lays the Cross of Christ upon you unto newness of life; unto the death and resurrection of your body; unto the life everlasting.

The Life that you live by faith in His Word is not completed with the rite of Confirmation.  Far less is it sufficient to be listed on the membership roles of the congregation, which means nothing apart from an actual participation in the Liturgy of preaching and the Sacrament.

Genuine Life with God in Christ is not a matter of genealogy, pedigree, or holding a leadership office.  It is not measured or determined by niceness or piety or sincerity or effort.

Your only true and lasting Life — the Life for which you have been created by God  — is in Christ Jesus.  And that Lord Jesus Christ is with you, and He is for you, in and with His Word.  Which is to say that He is with you, not simply in the Holy Scriptures, but in the Word that He speaks to you and for you in your Holy Baptism, in the Holy Absolution of your sins, and in the Holy Communion.  He abides with you in the daily catechesis of His Word and prayer, and especially in the preaching of His Gospel.

Faith comes by hearing, as the Apostle has said, because hearing and believing are by the Word of Christ which is preached to you in His Name and stead.

The simple fact of the matter is that you cannot live without these means of grace and forgiveness and salvation, because you cannot live without Jesus, and these are His ways and means.  Not as works of men, though He administers His gifts through men whom He has called and sent with His authority; nor as works of the Church, though the Lord gives them to you within the fellowship of His Church; but as God’s Service, the Ministry of Christ for the rescue and salvation of sinners.

That is why the protest of the people in this Holy Gospel, that they are Abraham’s children, falls flat and does not cut it.  First of all, because Christ Jesus is the Seed of Abraham by whom all the nations of the earth are blessed and are called to bless the Lord and one another with His Word.

And then, also, because the true children of Abraham are those who share Abraham’s faith in the one true God.  It is not a matter of human genealogy, but of faith and trust in the God of Abraham, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  That point likewise rules out modern appeals to the so-called “Abrahamic faith,” as if Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were all religions of one and the same God.  For Abraham’s faith is fulfilled only in Christ Jesus.  There is no other God than Him, and no one knows the Father or receives the Holy Spirit except by Christ and by His Word.

Similarly, it does you no good to appeal to your Lutheran pedigree, if you do not share the faith and confession of Martin Luther, which is the faith and confession of Christ Jesus, crucified for your transgressions, raised for your justification, given and poured out for you in the Sacrament.

Have you been confirmed?  Good for you!  But do you pray and confess your Catechism every day, as Dr. Luther did, and as he taught and urged others to do for themselves and for their families?

And do you actually practice and live, as well as believe and confess, the Six Chief Parts of the Christian faith and life?  Are you doing as you promised at your Confirmation?  More important and to the point, are you living by faith in the Word of Christ in the Communion of His Church?

If you are doing well, praise God for that, and continue by His grace to abide in His Word.

And if you recognize that in so many ways you have failed to remain steadfast in the Word of the Lord, then repent, and put your trust in Christ Jesus, your Savior.  Which is not simply a matter of the feelings in your heart or the thoughts in your head, but of where your body is, and of what you do with your body; that you are in the Lord’s Church and at the Lord’s Altar, with the preaching of Christ in your ears, and with His Body and His Blood in your mouth and in your stomach.

It is to this Life in Christ that repentance brings you.  For the Lord does not expose your sins and bring them to your attention in order to crush and destroy you forever.  He crucifies your old Adam with all your sinful lusts and desires, in order to raise you up again, body and soul, through His free and full forgiveness of your sins, so that you might live by faith in His Word as a new man or woman, abiding by His grace in the presence of God in the righteousness and purity of Christ.

It’s not a matter of trying harder, as though you could justify yourself and set things right with God by your own best efforts.  Apart from faith in Christ, apart from His Word and Holy Spirit, your self-righteous striving only adds to your sin and makes things that much worse instead of better.

By the same token, the point is not that you should give up or quit the work that God has given you to do.  There is no virtue or benefit to be found in your laziness, negligence, selfishness, or greed.  Refusing to do your duty and giving yourself over to sin will not help at all, but further hardens your heart, separates you from God, and drives you that much closer to death and damnation.

No, to live by the righteousness of God is a matter of trusting Christ in His Word and the preaching of it, in those ways and means of His grace where He has promised to be with you and for you with His forgiveness and salvation.  It is to seek and receive Him there, to cling to Him there, and to find Him there, where He comes to you and finds you and binds you to Himself (and you to Him).

Truth be told, apart from Christ Jesus you are a slave to sin, and you are bound for death and damnation.  Your case is utterly hopeless without your dear Savior.  You will not make it, and you will not last without Him.  Besides all that, heaven itself would be void and bare without Christ Jesus, anyway; so there would be no point in making it without Him, even if you could.

By contrast, the Life of the Church on earth in the Liturgy of her Lord is not simply a means to some other end, but is already the Life and Salvation with God to which He calls you by His Gospel.  Pursuing other ways and means of life is nothing but a perverse path of self-destruction.

But, that you not die as you deserve, all of your sin, your idolatry and unbelief are remedied and overcome by the Son who sets you free indeed.  For He is the Son of God, who out of love for you has become your Brother in the flesh, the Seed of Abraham who has fulfilled all the Words and promises of God in His own Body.   He has set you free from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy and precious Blood and His innocent suffering and death.

So it is that, by His grace, you are now His very own, and by faith in His Word you now live with Him in His Kingdom.  Even in great frailty and weakness under the Cross, you love and serve Him in the righteousness, innocence, and blessedness of His Resurrection, because He has first loved you, and His love for you never ends.  He ever lives to make intercession for you before the Throne of God in heaven, even as He serves you in His House and at His Table here on earth.

All that He has done for you and won for you by His Cross and in His Resurrection, He gives to you, freely and generously, by His grace alone, by the way and means of His Gospel.  These fruits of His Cross, the Tree of Life, are distributed and set before you, not as a burden or a work for you to do, but as the most precious gifts of Christ Jesus.

Thus does He give Himself to you, and with His Body and His Blood and His forgiveness of your sins, He gives you all the righteousness and life of His Resurrection from the dead.

It is in this way, also, that is to say, in His giving of Himself to you in Word and Sacrament, that your dear Lord Jesus daily returns you to the life-giving waters of your Holy Baptism; that He pours out the Holy Spirit generously upon you; that He daily and richly forgives all of your sins, and strengthens your faith, and keeps you steadfast in the one true faith, unto the Life everlasting

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

30 October 2016

Christ Jesus Comes Down to Raise You Up by the Tree of His Cross

The new and greater Joshua has come.  He has crossed the Jordan at the head of God’s people; He has entered the Land to make a place for them there, to establish peace and Sabbath Rest forever.

He comes to ascend the tree of His Cross, and by His death to atone for the sins of the world.  He comes to reconcile the world to God, to establish peace between God and man within His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead.  So does He make a place for you with Himself in His Kingdom, as He has done for those who have gone before us in His Name.

As He once came to Jericho on His way to the Cross in Jerusalem, so does the Lord Jesus come to you here and now, to seek you out and find you and to give you His good gifts.  He comes in His Ministry and Means of the Gospel to bring salvation to this House, to you and to all whom He calls to Himself through His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

But how shall you be able to see Him, and how shall you receive Him to yourself?

That was Zaccheus’ dilemma, as it is yours.  He wanted to see Jesus, and rightly so.  Somehow he had heard the Word of Jesus.  Perhaps he heard tell about what happened with Blind Bartimaeus as Jesus first entered Jericho, or maybe the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, such as we heard last week.  Whatever the reason, he wanted to see Jesus.  But he was not able to do so.

He was the boss, and he was rich, and who knows what else he had going for him.  But he was too small a man to see Jesus.  He was, as you know, a wee little man, short of stature.  And yet, that was not the only way, nor even the main way, in which he was too small to see Jesus.  His position and his wealth were simply not sufficient; neither were they the right way or means, in any case.  What is more, beyond all of his own limitations, the crowd was also getting in his way, milling and thronging about, and with its confusion and distractions preventing him from seeing the Lord.

How is it for you?  By what ways and means do you attempt to see Jesus, to get close to Him?  By what wealth, by what power or prestige, by what position, would you presume to see Him and receive Him, all to no avail?  None of your own works and efforts will get you there.  Of yourself, you are too short, and you come up short, no matter how big and tall, powerful, or wealthy you may be.  And there is the crowd for you, as well.  The world is all around you, getting in your way and in your face, pressing against you, pushing and pulling you this way and that.  Too often you are tempted and persuaded by its passions and pursuits of the flesh, its desires and distractions.

You cannot climb up high enough to behold your Lord Jesus Christ.  You will not raise yourself up to Him.  It is by no tree that you may climb that you find Him.  But you must come down from your tree, from your ladder, from your high horse, in order to see Him and receive Him, who has come down from heaven in order to gather you up and raise you up in Himself to the Father.

He comes to ascend a Tree on your behalf.  And it is by and with that Tree of His Cross that Jesus comes to you, and sees you, hiding though you are behind fig leaves.  He sees you, not with wrath and judgment, but with divine compassion and tender mercy.  For He knows all your sins and your poor, poor, pitiful stature, but He has come to set you free.  He comes to give you salvation.

Hurry and come down from wherever it is that you have tried to climb yourself up.  See and receive the One who is coming to you by the Way of His Cross.  Repent and believe His Gospel.  For left to your own devices you will not make it.  You will not be able to find Jesus, but you will lose yourself in your own sin and death, in the abundance of your greed and lust and appetites and consumption, and in your stockpile of perishing possessions and your futile, irrelevant pursuits.

Understand that it was not tax collecting per se that was a problem for Zaccheus.  For that position, too, is a station in life that can be carried out to the glory of God and for the benfit of others.

The problem was that it so easily entangled Zaccheus in the ways of the world and its chasing after wealth.  It is likely that Zaccheus had cheated the people by overcharging them.  That was typical of how the tax collectors made their income and lined their pockets.  Zaccheus was a wealthy man, and much of his wealth had probably come at the expense of God’s people.  And in his cooperation with Rome, he participated in Rome’s oppression of the Lord’s Church.  So, in various ways like these, Zaccheus’ sin was manifested and played itself out within his occupation and station in life.

In what ways does your sin affect your work and manifest itself in your profession?  How does it emerge and bear fruit in your cares and occupations of life, whether you are still a child at home, a student in school, or working out in the world?  Whether you are a boss or an employee, in what ways does your sin rear its ugly head in what you do as you go about your days?

How have you become entangled and ensnared by the pursuits of this world?  By the driving lust for wealth, or power and prestige, or personal pleasure and satisfaction at the expense of others?

And in what ways have you burdened, neglected, cheated, short changed, or overcharged your employer or your customers, or whomever God has set in relationship to you on earth?

Where have you done less than what is required of you?  Where have you taken more than God has given to you?  And in what ways have you gone chasing after the false gods and idols of this world to the neglect and detriment of Christ’s Holy Church?

The point is not that you should quit your job and find something “holier” to do.  Your job, if it is legal and honest labor, is sanctified and holy by the Word and Spirit of Christ, even as your sins are forgiven by His Gospel.  And the point is not that you should try to raise yourself up by your own bootstraps or by any other righteousness of yours.  There is nothing in you that can save you.

The point, rather, is this: Repent of your sins.  That is to say, not simply that you feel badly about them, but that you acknowledge and confess them, turn away from them, and seek the grace and mercies of the Lord for the forgiveness of your sins and for a newness of your life in Christ Jesus.

There is no way for you to atone for your sins or to justify yourself.  But neither does repentance persist in pursuing your sins or continue complacent in your sins against God and your neighbor.  To go home with Jesus, justified by faith in His forgiveness, and at peace in His righteousness, will not mean a return to the same ol’ same ol’ transgressions, but the pursuit of a brand new life in which you bear the fruits of repentance in thanksgiving to God and in love for your neighbor.

Where you have done wrong, cease and desist.  And where you are able to make amends, do what you can.  Pay back what you have taken.  Fix what you have broken.  Apologize and be reconciled to those whom you have hurt or failed in any way.  Do not harm but give help to your neighbor.

Use your vocation, your stations in life, your talents and gifts to serve and support your neighbor.  Look about to see whom you may help; there is no lack of need, even within our congregation.

Consider Zaccheus.  He sets a wonderful example.  When the people decried his sins and grumbled against Jesus for going to the home of such a sinner, Zaccheus did not argue or get defensive.  He didn’t say, Wait a minute, they don’t know what it’s like to be me!  He did not make excuses or rationalize his behavior.  He simply repented of his past, and he pledged to do better.

No doubt there were ups and downs in Zaccheus’ life, and where he cleaned up his act in one area, his sin was still there in others.  His salvation was not to be found in his better behavior.  But, for all of that, his better behavior was a fruit of his repentance.

He gives thanks to God and pays his vows to the Lord by sacrificing his wealth to make amends for his past and to care for his neighbors in love.  He begins to live by faith, as did father Abraham when he was willing to sacrifice even his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved.  So Zaccheus does not cling to his wealth, nor does he presume to propitiate God with his wealth, but he uses it to confess his faith, to give thanks for his salvation, and to serve those around him in their need.

In this newness of life, Zaccheus has become an example and encouragement to you and others, like all those who have lived and departed from this body and life in the faith and confession of Christ Jesus.  Thus do we remember and give thanks for the faithful departed and all the saints.

Zaccheus the tax collector is numbered among the faithful departed, and he belongs to the holy communion of all saints, because Jesus came and made His home with that wee little man.  He came and saw Zaccheus in love, and He called him to Himself.

The same Lord Jesus Christ comes to you, as well.  He comes with salvation.  He comes to save you from yourself and your sin, from death and the devil, and from every evil of body and soul.

He calls you to Himself in lowliness, in meekness, and in gentle mercy.  He calls you to Himself, not to reprimand or punish you, but to heal you, to give you life, to set you free from the bondage of your sin and death, and to bring you into the house and home that He has prepared for you.  He has called you by name, and He has named you with His own Holy Name in your Holy Baptism.

And now He comes to be the Guest in your home, as He did with Zaccheus, and as He did with those first two disciples at the original Emmaus.  He comes in to be the Guest, but look at that:  It is Christ Jesus the Savior who becomes the Host of the Meal.  He bids you to recline here at His Table, where He feeds you with His own Body and Blood, with His Life and His Salvation.

He does it here and now today.  Salvation has come to this house.  For it is in His loving service, it is by His forgiveness of your sins, it is by all that He showers upon you in love, that He raises you up by the Tree of His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  So it is that you go home and go about your work justified, and by faith in Christ Jesus you live righteously in holy love.

You offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Lord.  You love and serve your neighbor in peace; you do what is good and right; you make amends for past wrongs; and you care for those people whom the Lord in His wisdom has placed alongside you in this world.

In Him, by His grace, you also are a son or daughter of Abraham.  That is first of all to believe and confess the same faith in the same God as father Abraham.  It is also to live, to bear the Cross in patience and trust, and to sacrifice the gods of this world, as father Abraham did when he was called by God, the Lord.  Not by your own reason and strength, nor by your own wisdom or wealth, nor by climbing any tree of your own choosing, but ever and always by God’s grace alone.  For the Son of Abraham, by whom all the nations of the world are blessed, has come to you with salvation in Himself, in His Body given and His Blood poured out for you.

He withholds no good thing from you.  Not half of His riches, but all of them, He gives to you, who were so poor and needy in your sin and your mortality.  All that belongs to Him, He gives to you.  His House is your house, because His God and Father is your God and Father.

And here today, in His House, at His Table, is your Peace and Sabbath Rest — as those who have gone before us in Christ Jesus already enjoy forever before the face of His Father in heaven.  So does He call you and carry you in His own crucified and risen Body, even through death and the grave, unto the Resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul in Him.

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

23 October 2016

The Humility of Childlike Faith

Today the Son of Man comes to obtain faith in those who deserve nothing but punishment, who are unable to do anything for themselves.  For the saving faith is not only persistent in prayer; it is also the better part of repentance, humble and childlike in a posture of utter dependancy and complete trust, relying not on personal merit but on the mercies of God in Christ Jesus.

Today He paints a picture of what it looks like to be a Christian, to live and to pray as a Christian, and to be justified by His grace through faith in the forgiveness of His Cross and the righteousness of His Resurrection.  And all of this in direct opposition to the notions of self-righteousness that otherwise reside in the sinful hearts of all the sons and daughters of Adam.

When someone has died; when someone is sick or facing some other great distress; when someone is giving their excuses for not coming to Church; when someone is explaining what they suppose it’s really all about, it is astonishing how often would-be-Christians sound just like the Pharisee.  So-n-so did his best, worked hard, took care of his family, and kept his nose clean.  So-n-so was a Sunday School teacher for umpteen years, or so-no-so was a church officer for so many years.  So-n-so wasn’t just a “Sunday morning Christian,” but a real worker and contributor.

In the face of sin, death, and hell, out come these pedigrees and resumés of good intentions and good works, of pious performances and dues paid.  As if any of this could justify your life before God, who knows your heart, tries your mind, and tests your spirit in search of faith and love.

It’s not that piety, hard work, generosity and charity are any kind of problem in themselves.  Far from it!  Such things are fundamental to your Christian life in the body, in the world.  But the problem lies within your selfish, sinful heart, which presumes upon God, as though your works and efforts and accomplishments were your justification and your righteousness.  Ironically, it is that self-reliance and self-confidence that condemn both you and your works as a farce.

By contrast, the true Christian righteousness of faith is demonstrated in the example of the tax collector.  He is humble to the point of being ashamed of himself.  Yet, he comes in repentance, confessing his sins, and daring to live and to pray before God in the Temple, relying solely on the Lord’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

Jesus gives you this tax collector as an example, not because the man tried so hard, far less that he succeeded, but precisely as a sinner confessing his sins and seeking forgiveness.   It is certainly not that you should emulate his sins!  Nor that you should pursue or revel in sins of your own.  God forbid!  Rather, you are called to learn from this man’s repentance, that you should also confess your sins and seek forgiveness from the Lord in His Temple.  Your sins will otherwise condemn you, but the forgiveness of the Lord will save your life, both body and soul, now and forever.

Regrettably, it is at those times when you are least aware of your sins, when you are feeling most safe and secure, and when you are at ease in your own righteousness and piety, that you are most deeply immersed in your sin, and so captured by the falleness of your flesh that you do not even realize the danger you are in.  For the devil, the world, and your own sinful self are masters at making your sin seem like righteousness and life instead of the death and damnation that it is.

Therefore, you simply cannot rely upon yourself, your own thoughts and feelings, your own standards and expectations, or your own best efforts.  None of these do-it-yourself strategies will justify your life or save your body and soul from sin, death, and hell.  Neither your sins nor your good works will obtain the resurrection unto life everlasting with God.

The Way, the Truth, and the Life are found, not in yourself, but in the Word of the Lord, His Law and His Gospel.  Only by His Word and Spirit do you know and believe what is the Will of God.  Only by His Word and Spirit are you turned away from your sins, away from your pursuit of death, and turned toward Him in faith, to His mercy and forgiveness, and to the Life of God in Christ.

The Law of the Lord guides and directs your life by commanding what is good and right and true, and by forbidding and threatening to punish what is evil, wrong, and wicked.  But the Law also reveals and makes clear that it cannot give you life, nor can it raise you from the dead; not because of anything lacking in the Law, but because you are not the Creator but His creature, and you are not created to live by your own works and efforts and accomplishments, but by faith in His Word and by His good works of grace.  Not only that but, as a fallen creature, you are consumed by your own self-interest.  Your self-righteousness is not the good you suppose it to be, but a contradiction of the whole Law, a damnable offense against both faith and love.  Hence, although you are called to live according to the Law of the Lord, your life does not derive from the Law.

But the Law is not the last or final Word of God.  For not only does He humble you and call you to repentance by His Word of the Law; He also forgives you and exalts you by His Word of the Gospel.  That is to say, not that He contradicts or does away with His own holy and righteous Law, but that He has perfectly fulfilled the Law and brought it to completion in the Person of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  In holy faith and holy love, the Son of God humbled Himself unto the repentance of His Cross, in order to atone for your sins and reconcile you to the Father by His Blood.  And so has the Father raised this same Lord Jesus from the dead for your justification.  He has vindicated Him and exalted Him to His right hand, and in His crucified and risen Body He has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, so that His Righteousness is credited to you, not by works, but by faith in His Word of promise and forgiveness.

Repent, therefore, and rely upon the Lord’s own Word of the Gospel for the forgiveness of your sins and for righteousness.  Do not persist in your sins, but fall upon the mercies of the Lord and lay hold of Him in His means of grace.  Despair of yourself, to be sure, but do not despair of Him who loves you for His own Name’s sake.  In calling you to repentance, He has called you to Himself, not to shame you, but to save you.  In Holy Baptism, He has named you with His Name to be His own dear child, and so it is that even His discipline is an exercise of His love for you.

To clarify the point, the true righteousness of humility and faith, such as Jesus describes in the tax collector, is then also demonstrated in those little babies who are brought to Him.  Of such are the Kingdom of God, because they are the epitome and best example of what it means to live entirely by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Jesus Christ alone.  They are justified with the righteousness of Christ, because He receives them to Himself and blesses them with His Word and the touch of His hand.  They do nothing for themselves, nor can they do so.  But they are brought to Jesus by others, and they receive what He freely bestows upon them in grace, mercy, and peace.

Now, then, as for the Parable, note that both the Pharisee and the tax collector are “in Church.”  They have both “gone up to the Temple,” and rightly so, for the Lord’s House is where He causes His Name and His Glory to dwell with His people.  In the same way, both Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to the Lord, no doubt according to the instruction and example of their father Adam.

The difference between these men is not in their outward actions but in their hearts, between faith and unbelief, between idolatry and the worship of the Lord in the Spirit and the Truth of His Word.

The same difference between faith and idolatry wars within your own heart and in your flesh.  Which is to say, not that some of you are like the Pharisee and some of you like the tax collector, but that in each one of you there is that proud, self-righteous Pharisee; and yet, by God’s grace, you have been called to share the humble repentance and faith of the tax collector.

The Pharisee in you goes through all the outward motions of worship, just as you should, but in your heart he is thinking that you have a right to be here and to stand in God’s presence; that you deserve to be a member of this congregation; that you have been here longer than others, that you have worked harder than others, and that you have given more.  So, you stand there praying to yourself, as Jesus says, reminding yourself and the Lord what a good person you have been.

But repentance and faith, like that of the tax collector, are a very different attitude and posture.  When the Lord has humbled you with His Law, then you see and feel nothing in yourself but your sins and your sinfulness.  You think not of your accomplishments, but of your failings; not how hard you have worked, but what you have neglected; not how much you have given, but how much you have taken and kept for yourself.  You do not look down on others and despise them, but you bemoan how little you have done to help and be of service to them.

But in calling you to such repentance, the Lord has also called you by His Gospel to believe and trust in Him, in His mercy and His forgiveness of your sins.  The Father calls you by His Word and Spirit to die with Christ in the humility of His Cross and Passion, and to rise with Him by faith in His forgiveness, to be vindicated in His Righteousness, and to be seated with Him in the heavenly places.  Within the Body of Christ, His Church on earth, you are gathered into the true Temple of God, and into the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens.  Thus, although you are sinful and unclean and surely deserve nothing but punishment for your sins, you stand in the presence of God and call upon His Name in peace.  And you are heard and answered in His Love.

So, then, as the Law accuses and condemns you, as it exposes your sin and demonstrates your unrighteousness, do not get angry, and do not go away mad.  Do not go away at all!  But repent.  Master your sin by naming it and looking to the Lord for mercy and forgiveness, especially by way of Confession and Absolution, and thereby return to the Lord your God in faith.  Avail yourself of His Word and His good gifts of the Gospel, by which alone you are justified and saved.

Though both Cain and Abel offered sacrifice, and both the Pharisee and the tax collector were in the Temple to pray, it should not be thought that these activities were irrelevant or incidental even if they did not make the difference between these men.  God’s Word and prayer, His Liturgy of preaching and the Sacrament are fundamental to the Christian faith and life.  Indeed, there is no Christian faith or life apart from these means of grace.  Going through the outward motions will not save you, but departing from the Temple of the Lord will cut you off from His Life altogether.

It is in the Temple that you receive the forgiveness of your sins and the righteousness of Christ through faith in His Gospel.  And so it is, also, both here in the Temple of His Church and in your home and family, in all the occupations of your life, that you offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.  Not that you congratulate yourself and presume to give thanks for what a good boy or girl you have been, but that you acknowledge the mercy of God and give thanks to Him for the utter charity of His forgiveness and the goodness of His Righteousness in Christ Jesus.

As Abel offered to the Lord the fat portions of the firstlings of his flock — not in the false worship of self-righteousness, but in the righteousness of faith, for which he and his offering were received and regarded by the Lord — so are you and your whole body and life offered to God in faith as a sacrifice of praise to His Name.  You pay your vows to the Lord within His House by confessing what you have heard, by praying and interceding for the Church and the world, and by returning to the Lord a significant portion of the time, treasures, and talents He has given you.  That you are justified by His grace and not by your works does not mean that you should live unrighteously, but that you live righteously by faith in Christ Jesus, instead of living in your sins and for yourself.

It is when the Lord has called you away from yourself to fix your eyes on Him alone that you go home justified by His grace through faith in His mercy.  And as your true home is now with the Lord Jesus Christ, you are able to be and live “at home” in peace and righteousness, no matter where you may be located in this old world.  For you and your life are in His hands, and He has done all things well to the glory of His God and Father and to your eternal benefit and blessing.

He has been merciful toward you.  He has sacrificed Himself upon the Cross for the propitiation of all your sins.  He has forgiven you by His Word, and He continues to do so.  He has dressed you in Holy Baptism with His own perfect Righteousness.  And He feeds you here in His House with His own holy Body and His precious Blood.  He loves you, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He is your Righteousness and Holiness, your Life and your Salvation, and He goes with you all the way, to and from His House and yours, today and tomorrow, even forevermore.

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

15 October 2016

Awhile a Bridesmaid, Forever the Bride

The Kingdom of Heaven is not like this fallen and perishing world with its confused and perverted view of marriage and family, of sexuality and the body, and of human beings, male and female, created by God for life and for love in the Light of His Word.

But for those who are called and invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, the Kingdom of Heaven is very much like the Marriage of the Man and the Woman according to God’s holy will, as Holy Scripture has revealed and as the holy Christian Church confesses even in this day and age.  Such sacred things are not subject to personal interpretation, nor even to the personal plans and purposes of loving couples.  They are taught by God, by His Word and Holy Spirit.

Holy Marriage is the crowning glory of God’s good creation, as well as the means by which He continues His good work of creation even in the midst of sin and death.  It is the partnership and union of body, heart, and mind by which He intends to guard and guide His creation, to care for it, and to cultivate this world in the fear and faith of His Word, to the glory of His holy Name, and in the eager expectation of the new heavens and new earth in which His righteousness will dwell.

But as profound as all of this gift of holy Marriage is, it does look beyond itself, and it points beyond itself, in anticipation of something far greater and far more permanent.  The virgins and the married alike rejoice and celebrate in the one Bridegroom who calls us, one and all, to follow Him into His Wedding Banquet.  For this great and solemn Mystery of husband and wife, the man and the woman, signifies Christ Jesus and His holy Bride, the Church.

By God’s design, holy Marriage confesses Christ in the world and points all people of all ages and stations in life to Him.  It is for this reason, in particular, that the Church on earth must defend and uphold the integrity and wisdom of holy Marriage in keeping with the Lord’s divine intentions.  Not that everyone must get married in this body and life on earth, but that one and all should be prepared to meet the Bridegroom who is near, to hear and heed His calling in holy faith and love.

For those who are married in this body and life, this “honorable estate instituted and blessed by God in Paradise” is the primary training ground in which a man and woman are conformed to the Image and Likeness of God in Christ by the way of His Cross and in His own bodily Resurrection from the dust of the earth to the life that is lived, both body and soul, in the Holy Spirit.

In general, the entire Christian life is to be one of true wisdom, which begins with and continues in the fear, love, and trust of the Lord.  You are called to live in faith toward God in Christ Jesus; and, in His Name and for His sake, you are called to live in love for your neighbor.  Such wisdom is characterized by prayer, praise, and thanksgiving at all times and in all places; by singing and making music to the glory of God and for the edification of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, too, within holy Marriage, husbands and wives are called by the Lord to live by faith in Christ Jesus, by His Word and Holy Spirit, and to live in love for Him, for each other, and for all their neighbors in the world, especially for their fellow Christians of the household and family of God.

For those who are married, including Nicholai and Hannah as of this afternoon, your marriage and your relationship to your spouse are your highest and holiest calling in this body and life on earth.  It is within this station, in particular, that you are called to live as a child of God in Christ, which is and remains your first and foremost vocation by virtue of your Holy Baptism.  Thus do you live as a husband or wife in the hope of the Resurrection and in the expectation of the final judgment.

Indeed, whether you are married or not — for the unmarried life is also a high and holy calling of the Lord your God — your entire life in both body and soul is to be lived in the anticipation of the coming Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, in view of His righteous Judgment of the living and the dead.

It is the Marriage of the Lamb (to which all of you are called and invited) which puts the Parable of the Ten Virgins into perspective as a picture of what the Kingdom of Heaven shall be like.

It was, I believe, Hannah’s brilliant and modest proposal to use this Holy Gospel for the wedding, for which I must commend her.  It is brilliant, first of all, because everything in this Word of the Lord turns on the coming of the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  There is no more important point to bear in mind for marriage and for life.  Everything hinges and depends on the Lord Jesus Christ.

It was also a modest proposal, I should say, in view of what is missing from the Parable.  Did you notice?  The Bride is not mentioned, not even once.  It’s not as though she’s unimportant.  She is indeed the Lord’s own dearly beloved.  But her absence from the Parable is her now-and-not-yet presence by anticipation, and by the watching and waiting to which the Lord Jesus here calls you.

For this fact, too, belongs to the Mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven, that many are called from all the nations of the earth to become disciples of Christ Jesus, the children of His God and Father, who are all together members of one Holy Bride, the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.

He is indeed the Husband of one Wife.  But His Bride comprises a great host that none but God could number, whom He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies to be one Body in Christ Jesus: flesh of His Flesh and bone of His Bone.  The Father draws them from the open side of this new and better Adam, from the deep sleep of His death upon the Cross, in the water and the blood.  He recreates them in His Image, and He brings them all to His dear Son as one Woman to one Man.

It is for this one holy Marriage to Christ Jesus that all ten virgins have been created, baptized, and catechized by the Word of the Lord.  Which is to say that all of them, and each and all of you, are called to watch and to wait upon His coming as the Bridegroom.  Each and all of you, regardless of your age or station in life, are called to repent of your sins, to live by faith in the forgiveness of the Gospel, and to let your light so shine to the glory of His holy Name in all that you say and do.

As you are clothed and covered in the righteousness and holiness of Christ Jesus by His Baptism and by His Word of Holy Absolution, so are you called to live righteously in Him by faith.  For it is in this way and by these means that you are well prepared and ready to welcome and receive Him, and to attend and accompany the Bridegroom into His Wedding Feast.

That is what your life in the body is to be about.  That is your duty and delight as a “bridesmaid” within whatever callings and stations the Lord has given you for this little while here on earth.

So, then, Nicholai and Hannah, you are guided and governed by the Word of the Lord; instructed, disciplined, encouraged, and strengthened in the life of faith and love that you are here called and given to live together, with and for each other, to the praise and glory of your Lord Jesus Christ.

There is indeed an irony in this, that in your calling to be husband and wife to each other, you are called to be and to live as bridesmaids — yes, even you, Nicholai — in the Wedding of the Lamb.

In much the same way, your unmarried friends and neighbors here with you today, whatever their role in your wedding, and all of your family and fellow Christians of various stations in life, are likewise called to be and to live as bridesmaids awaiting the coming of the heavenly Bridegroom.

If any of you are baptized in the Name of the Lord, if any of you are a Christian, then you have indeed been called to go out and meet the Bridegroom with lamp in hand.  It is your duty and responsibility, as a bridesmaid for a little while, to watch and to wait for the coming of the Lord.

To that end, each of you bears the lamp that God has provided, that is, your body and life in the flesh, your outward existence in the world.  And with that lamp, it is easy enough to dress the part and look the part, as you’re all decked out today.  But even dressed to the nines, whether a sharp dressed man or a beautiful girl, your own marriage or personal relationships may be in shambles.  You can wear the ballroom mask and party clothes, but what are your life and love really like?

If you are to be a fully functioning member of the Wedding Party, and not just a party crasher, it is by all means most necessary that your lamp be fueled and supplied with the appropriate Oil.  Otherwise, you will be utterly useless.  Sooner than later, you will burn yourself out and go dark.  You will be unprepared, caught off guard, and finally locked out of the Feast forever.

Now, being prepared, ready, and properly waiting for the Bridegroom to appear, is decidedly not a matter of “Do It Yourself Christianity.”  There’s actually no such thing as that, and it would not work in any case.  Relying on yourself, on your works and efforts, and on your good intentions to be worthy of your coming Lord, is still a case of bearing a lamp without any oil to burn in it.

Neither is it possible for you to light your lamp and keep it burning with the oil that your neighbor has obtained for his own body and life in the world.  For you are called to meet the Bridegroom, yourself, and you are accountable to Him for your own life in the body.  So it is that, even now, and every day, you are called to repentance, faith, and life in the Lord’s forgiveness of your sins.

And so it is that you are rightly and wisely sent to the dealers of the Gospel, to the Ministers of the Word of Christ, to the Life of the Church in the Liturgy of preaching and the Holy Sacraments.  Only do not wait until it is too late.  Do not wait for the night to come, when it will no longer be possible for anyone to work.  But seek the blessed Oil of the Lord where it may be found, and keep on going back to that place of grace, mercy, and peace while it is still the great Day of Salvation.

In much the same way that holy Marriage on earth is to be an icon, a confession, and a sacred sign of Christ and His Bride, the Church, so is the liturgical Life of His Church on earth a foretaste of — and a real participation in — the neverending Wedding Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom.  Watch and wait upon the Lord in faith, hope, and love, as He waits upon you at His Supper Table here in time, on earth even now as it is and ever shall be in heaven forever.

To receive and participate in the Liturgy of His Word and Sacrament is your training and practice, your wedding rehearsal, for the coming of the Bridegroom and the consummation of all things in the glorious revealing of His crucified and risen Body.  The Life of His Church on earth is not play acting or pretend.  It is the catechesis and confession of Christ and His Word, the giving of His Body and the pouring out of His Blood for His Christians to eat and to drink with thanksgiving.

Not only does the Liturgy teach you how to live; it gives the Life of Christ into your body and your soul, into your heart, mind, and spirit.  Your lamp is filled and sustained by the Oil of His Word and Spirit, by His forgiveness of your sins, by His Life-giving Gospel and His love-abiding Law.

Thus does Christ prepare you by His coming in grace for His coming in glory.  He teaches you and trains you — both by His example and by serving you in peace and love — so that you learn to live and to love as wise and faithful bridesmaids within your own vocations and stations in life.  So that you, Nick, learn how to be a husband to Hannah, as Christ Jesus cares for His Bride, the Church; and you, Hannah, learn to love and serve Nicholai as his wife, as the Church for her Lord Jesus.

And yet, as glorious as this gift of His divine grace truly is, and as profound the Mystery of holy Marriage, ever so much more so is the grace and Mystery of His coming as the Bridegroom of His one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church in heaven and on earth.

For so does He come to you in His Holy Supper, week by week, throughout the years of your life in His Church on earth.  And so shall it be in His glorious appearing at the close of the age, when His beloved bridesmaids from all the nations, tribes, tongues, and stations of this life — all who are made wise by His Word and Holy Spirit, who are kept faithful by His forgiveness of their sins — shall enter with Him into the Wedding Feast, no longer as bridesmaids, but forever the Bride, made ready by and for her Husband, beautiful in His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

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

09 October 2016

The Lord God Draws Near to You in the Flesh

Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem, making His way to the Cross on which He will lay down His life as the Propitiation for your sins, and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the world.  He goes to sacrifice Himself as the Sacrifice of Atonement.

He makes His way to the Cross gathering up the sins of everyone He meets, Jews and Gentiles alike, the rich and poor, publicans, prostitutes, and Pharisees.  He comes to them and enters into their various circumstances of sin and death, in order to save them.  So does He also come to you, right where you are in the midst of sin and death, deep darkness, and utter despair.  He comes to share your life under the curse and consequences of sin.  He comes to share your death.

All of your burdens of sin and death have otherwise separated you from God and from His life, and they separate you from each other, as well.  Your sin itself is a rejection of the Lord your God and a running away from Him, further and further into disaster.  So, too, His righteous wrath and judgment against sin, the commands and prohibitions, threats and punishments of His Law, drive you down the road, away from Him and always closer to the death and damnation you deserve.

In fact, there are countless ways in which you are cut off from God by your sin, and countless ways in which you are driven apart from your neighbor.  Perhaps it is famine and hunger, such as Naomi and her family faced, or a lack of money.  Or maybe it is a disease, a contagious disease, which puts you on the outskirts.  If not a deadly illness, then perhaps you wear the symptoms of mortal frailty in the blemishes and flaws, the wrinkles, bulges, and scars of your body and flesh.

There are all manner of things that separate you from God and from each other in this body and life.  Then death confronts you with the ultimate separation.  That is how sin gets its final word.

Sin and death separate you from the true and living God, who is Life Itself, and, consequently, death now invades even the most intimate of human relationships.  It robs a husband of his wife, and a wife of her husband.  It takes away parents from children, and sometimes it takes children from their parents.  It separates siblings and the best of friends.  And you are powerless to stop it.

But the Lord Jesus has come to meet you even there.  He has gone into the depths of Sheol, so that even there you are not apart from Him.  He has gone through the valley of the shadow of death, even to His death on the Cross, so that you are not left alone, and you are not cut off from God.

He has not only come near to you in the Flesh, to share your life on earth, but He has also made your death and your grave His own.  Hence, there is no longer anything that can separate you from the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus, your Lord.  Not even death at its worst can do that.

And so it is that, from wherever you are, your cry to the Lord is heard and answered.

Those ten leprous men are likewise at a distance.  They raise their voices because, by law, they’re not allowed to get close to Jesus.  They’re not allowed to get close to anyone.  They are outcast.  They are ostracized.  They have no part in the community of healthy people.  They cannot even go to church.  It is forbidden.  They are kept at a distance.  And yet, they meet Jesus with their cries for mercy.  And they are heard, as you are heard, because Jesus has drawn near to them in love.

Even the silent groan of your heart is heard by the One who draws near to you.  Your shouts do not have to scale the heights of heaven, because even a whisper is heard in the ears of your dear Father, who has adopted you to be His dear child in this Lord Jesus Christ, who comes to lepers and outcasts and sinners like you.  He comes to them, and He sees them with compassion.

Jesus sees you.  He knows your hurts, because He has made them His own.  And He knows your sins because He has made them His own, not by committing them, but bearing them in His Body.

Have you murdered?  He has made Himself the Murderer.  Have you committed adultery?  He has made Himself the Adulterer.  Have you robbed and stolen?  He has made Himself the Thief, who is numbered and crucified among thieves.  Whatever your sins, He has made them His own sins by taking responsibility for them and suffering all of the consequences and punishment for them.

So it is that He sees you, and He knows you, inside and out.  And yet, He loves you, anyway.  So He draws near to you, and He speaks to you.  Such a wondrous gift this is, that God the Father speaks to you by His Son, the Word of God made Flesh who tabernacles with you here on earth.

He spoke to those ten leprous men, and He sent them to the priest for the cleansing rites and ceremonies specified in the Law of Moses.  He sent them to the Liturgy.  He sent them to their pastor.  He sent them to pray according to the Word of God, to offer sacrifice according to the Word of God, and to make use of the Means of Grace according to the Word and promises of God.

And in their going, they were healed.  For the Word of God in Christ is living and life-giving.

Now, then, the cleansing was something different than the healing.  The Law of Moses clarifies that point.  If a leper perceived himself to be healed of his leprosy, then he would go to the priest, and there was a whole series of things that would happen.  It could take a couple of weeks.  The priest would first examine him, and then wait, and then examine him again.  If the leprosy was really gone, then the priest would administer the rites and ceremonies by which the former leper was cleansed, that is, readmitted to the communion of Israel, readmitted to the life of the Church.  Not only healed of his disease, but cleansed of his sin and reconciled to God and His people.

As for the Samaritan, no doubt he did go with the other nine lepers to the priest, as Jesus had said, in order to be declared “clean” within the social and political context.  But being a Samaritan, he was still not allowed to participate in the actual communion of Israel.  He was still not allowed to go to Church!  He still had no pastor among the Jews.  He was hated as much for being a Samaritan as he ever was for his leprosy.  He was just as much an outcast and ostracized.

But when he sees that he has been healed, and he’s been given a “clean” bill of health, he does return to Jesus, and he worships God by worshiping this Man, Jesus, in the Flesh.  He prostrates himself on the ground before Jesus.  He gives thanks to God and glorifies God by giving thanks to Jesus.  In Jesus he has found his Priest.  In Jesus he has found his Pastor.  In Jesus he has found his God, and in the Body of Jesus, his Temple.

So he worships Him.  He worships Him as the great and merciful High Priest in whom God and Man are no longer separated, and no longer at odds, and no longer at enmity.  For Christ Jesus is the One who is both true God and true Man, begotten of His Father from all eternity, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary here in time, in whom God and Man are perfectly reconciled.

And so this Samaritan sees and knows his God in this one true God who has drawn near to him.  He sees and knows the Father in the Son.  He knows God in the Flesh.  He has worshiped Him with his prayer, when he cried out with the other nine, “Lord Jesus, have mercy!”  That is the most basic prayer of faith.  But the Samaritan now also worships Jesus with the eucharistic sacrifice, giving thanks to God, the Lord, by giving thanks and praise to this Man who is true God in the Flesh.

And he worships Him with his body, as well.  He fully prostrates himself before Jesus.  For is it not true that God has come to him with a Body of flesh and blood?  And is it not true that this God has healed him in his body?  This poor man who has worn his sin in his very skin now finds that his body also has been healed and cleansed.  So how shall he not worship God with his body?

The Lord has made him well in both body and soul.  He makes you well, too.  In your body and your soul, in your heart, mind, and spirit.  Wherever your sin has entangled itself in your flesh, wherever you know and feel your mortality, wherever the curse and consequences of sin and death have plagued you and tormented you and driven you away and taken others from you, the Lord Jesus steps into the breach.  He draws near to you in love, He embraces you in mercy, and He speaks to you the Gospel.  He sends you also to the priest, to the pastor, to the Temple of His Body, the Church, in order to be cleansed and healed by His Word through the Ministry of His Gospel.

For He is the God who takes water, and with His Word He makes it a full washing away of sins, a cleansing of transgression, a water of life.  He is the God who takes real bread and wine, and with His Word He makes them His own Body and His Blood, and He gives them into your body, that your body and your blood should thus be cleansed and healed for the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.  He is the God who speaks to you through mortal men, and by His speaking He forgives you all your sins and cleanses you from all unrighteousness.

Meet Him here, where He meets you.  Raise your voice to Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving — at all times and in all places, to be sure, and so also here at His Altar.  Call upon His Name in every trouble.  And in the certainty of His Word, praise Him and give Him thanks.  Worship Him as God.  Bend your heart before Him by humbling yourself before the Lord.  And humble your mind before Him, too, that you would hear His Word and not presume to know better than Him.

Then, also, as you are able, as your mortal flesh permits, worship Him with your body.  Whether by folding your hands or making the sign of the cross, bowing your head, kneeling, or prostrating yourself before Him.  For the same God is here who met and healed those ten lepers.  The same God is here, who welcomes you to Himself, because He has drawn near to you with His Gospel.

So, as you are here healed, and as you are cleansed by His Cross and in His Resurrection through His Word of the Gospel and in His Holy Sacrament, now rise, and go.  Proceed on your way within your vocation as a child of God, for that is what you are.  And worship the Lord your God with your body by faithfully doing the work that He has given you to do within your station in life, and by patiently bearing the Cross that He has given you to carry and suffer in love for your neighbor.

Consider, for example, the case of Ruth that we have heard this morning.  She was, to begin with, a foreigner, a pagan, with people of her own that were not God’s people, and gods of her own that were not God.  And yet, you know how much she benefitted in her coming to Israel and binding herself to Naomi and then finding a husband in Boaz of the tribe of Judah.  She was able to do all of these things because the ancestors of Christ our Lord had first of all drawn near to her in Moab.

In much the same way, however, she also became a blessing to Naomi.  For Ruth was also to be an ancestress of the Lord Jesus Christ.  So it was that she was given to Naomi when that older woman’s faith had faltered.  For when the Lord provided bread for Israel, Naomi said, “It is more bitter for me than for you.  I shall not have another husband.  What hope is there for me?  The hand of God has gone against me!  Go on back to your own gods, they will serve you better.”  You can relate to that kind of bitterness, that kind of anger, that kind of doubt and despair, I’m sure of it.  And for such sins of heart and mind, repent, and trust the Word and promises of Christ the Lord.

Hear again of Ruth, this foreigner.  She binds herself to Naomi, precisely when Naomi is mired in her grief and mourning, doubts and fears.  She binds herself to Naomi’s God, even when Naomi seems ready to give up on her God.  And so Ruth says, “Where you live, I will live, and where you die, I will die, and that’s where I’ll be buried.  Not even death, then, will separate me from you.”

In that oath and promise, in dear Ruth, it is Christ who binds Himself to His people.  And so does He bind Himself to you.  Where you live, He lives with you.  And where you die, He dies with you.  And where you are buried, He is buried with you.  Not even death shall separate you from Him.

The Son of David, the Great-Great-Grandson many times over of Ruth, has bound Himself to you in your Baptism, by His Word and promise, and nowhere more closely than here at His Altar, where He feeds you with His Body and gives you to drink of His Blood.  He draws near and gives Himself to you in the Flesh, in order to abide with you, and you with Him, unto the Resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul, in and with Him, in the Glory of His Father and the Communion of His Holy Spirit, even now and forevermore.

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

02 October 2016

To Live by Faith in the Word of Christ

The world takes offense when its sin is exposed and condemned for what it is.  It otherwise loves to boast of its depravity and darkness, its rampant excess, and its selfish, self-serving ways of life.  But when the Word of God is brought to bear against it, and the Light of the Lord in the midst of the darkness reveals the promise and pursuit of unbelief and sin to be a path of destruction, a kind of living death, and a road to hell, then the world is up in arms, enraged, and defensive of its sin.

As for the proud, their soul is not right within them; they are not capable of knowing or believing the Truth, nor of living before God in righteousness and purity.  But to be humble and kind does not mean that, for the sake of peace, you should condone what is evil or keep silent concerning sins.  That, too, is a temptation in this dying world: to avoid conflict and confrontation at all costs.

Whereas the world is offended when its sins are exposed, it is far more offensive to the Lord our God when sins and unbelief are tolerated, allowed to continue, normalized, and even celebrated.  Yet, that stubborn persistence in sin is everywhere you look, within and without, masquerading as a way of life, though it is in fact the way of death and damnation.  Cutthroat greed calls the shots in almost every sector of society.  Pleasure and possessions are pursued over and above the real riches and treasures of righteousness in the Kingdom of God.  Leisure is prized over the Liturgy, and hardly anyone is willing to confess that such despising of God’s Word and preaching is a sin.

You know what this world is like.  You read and hear it every day, until you’re sick to death of the news and afraid to look at the latest headlines.  Wickedness grows more brazen by the day, as though God were powerless to respond.  Destruction of people and property has become a means to achieving agendas of all kinds, so much so that violence has become the norm; we expect it.  And, as both a consequence and further cause of all this evil, even justice is perverted.  But now, be sure of this, the Lord will judge the world in righteousness and establish justice with equity.

No doubt you can work yourself up into a good bit of self-righteous indignation over politicians on all sides, partisan media coverage, and the ever increasing prevalence of sexual perversity.  Or name your own pet peeves and personal vendettas.  Better yet, examine your own heart and life in the light of God’s Word, and consider your place in the world according to His commandments.

How have you stumbled?  And how have you caused others to stumble and fall?  By your words and actions; by your false teaching and poor example; by what you have done wrong, and by all that you have not done right — or failed to do at all, although it was your duty and responsibility.

You know that these young confirmands are also going to face stumbling blocks in the years ahead.  And there will be times along the way when they, too, stumble and fall, as you and all the sons and daughters of Adam have fallen into sin, into idolatry, despair, and other shameful vices.

It is for this reason that you and they are armed and armored with God’s Word and the preaching of it.  For how else shall these young people guard their eyes and ears, their hearts and minds, their spirits, souls, and bodies against the temptations of the devil, the world, and their own flesh, if not by the preaching and prayer of God’s Word, by the catechesis and confession of Christ Jesus?

It is not easy to live by faith in this world.  Even with the Word of God, it is difficult to thread the narrow path between complacency and cynicism.  But it is not possible at all apart from His Word.

That is why it is far worse than even fornication and other sexual immoralities, bad as those sins are, when parents fail to catechize their children with the Word of God and prayer in His Name.  Indeed, sexual sins are often the consequence and among the symptoms when young people are neither disciplined nor defended by the preaching and teaching of the Law and the Gospel.  And sins of this kind, in particular, contribute in turn to greater alienation from God’s Word and faith.

Fornicators and adulterers, God will surely judge, just as He has warned.  But no less so those who misuse (or fail to use) His Holy Name.  The Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.  Which is what you do when you disregard and disobey His Word and teach others to do the same, whether by your own bad example, by tempting others to sin, or by neglecting your duty to train up your children in the fear and faith of God, in the prayer and confession of His Word.

Repent.  Turn away from evil, and by the grace of God return to the deadly and life-giving waters of your Holy Baptism.  Renounce again, today and every day, the devil, all his works, and all his ways; and remember that Life and Salvation are found in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Not self-defense, not rationalizations, and not excuses, but repentance, confession, and newness of life in God’s Word and faith are the only proper response when you are reproved and your sins are exposed to the Light.  So, then, wherever you have stumbled in the past, and as often as you stumble in the future, be put to death and die to yourself, to your sins, and to the world.  And rise up with Christ Jesus by way of faith in His forgiveness of sins, in His Word of the Gospel, and in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, which is the Medicine of Immortality for body and soul.  And as you thus receive the fruits of His Cross, so bear the fruits of His Cross in all that you do.

This Christian way of faith and life is embodied and signified in your Holy Baptism, namely, that it is by drowning and dying with Christ that you are raised up to live with Christ in His Body.

So it is that, instead of offending the little ones who believe in Him and causing them to stumble, you now live as a little one, yourself, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

But what does this mean, to be and to live as such a little one?  It is daily to repent of your sins, to relinquish all of your selfishness and self-reliance, and to receive and rely upon the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins.  It is to wait upon the Lord, to rest yourself in His promises, and to open your mouth and be fed from His hand, like a baby bird receiving the worm from its mama.

As you thus live by faith in the Word of the Lord, especially His Word of forgiveness, so also, in turn, relate to your neighbor and deal with your neighbor in accordance with the Lord’s Word.  Let the Law of the Lord govern and guide you in works of genuine love for your neighbor, as per the duties of your office.  And let the Gospel all the while determine the attitude of your heart and the way you think and speak about your neighbor, so that in all things you are always aiming to call your neighbor to repentance and to faith in the forgiveness of sins.  That is, not to place yourself above your neighbor, but to see your neighbor with yourself under the grace of God in Christ.

Forgiveness is fundamental to your life as a little one of Jesus.  It is by faith in the forgiveness of sins that you live as a Christian.  And it is the Lord’s forgiveness of your sins that first of all brings about faith in your heart and thereafter strengthens and increases your faith in Christ your Savior.

It is likewise only by such faith in the forgiveness of your sins, that you forgive your neighbor in love, and serve him just as you are served by Christ Jesus Himself, all for the sake of His Gospel.

That forgiveness of the Gospel is what you need above all else in this body and life — and what your neighbor needs, as well — if either one of you is to live and not die, both now and forever.

Your own works and efforts will not save you, nor could they ever do so.  For one thing, you simply have not done all that you should do; whereas you do sin every day in countless ways that contradict the Word of the Lord.  You think and say and do so many things that you should not.

But even to do everything perfectly (as if you ever could) would not save you from sin and death; for that is nothing more than your duty.  And yet, it is not by God’s design that you should save yourself or live by your own righteousness.  He has rather created you to live by faith in Him, to live as a little one, as a dear child of God in Christ Jesus, and He your own dear Father forever.

To be sure, you are certainly to do whatever He has given you to do.  As a child is given to honor his father and mother, to serve and obey them, to love and cherish them, so are you to honor and obey your Father in heaven.  Therefore, do your job and fulfill your responsibilities because your Lord has given you this work to do.  He has commanded you to do it, and it is good and right for you to do so.  Indeed, it is your duty as a Christian, as a child of God, and as a creature of God.

Fulfill your calling within your own particular stations in life, whether as a parent or a child, as a husband or wife or unmarried, as a brother or sister, as a student, a worker, or retired.  Stand at your guard post.  Be faithful and keep watch wherever you are stationed in the midst of this fallen and perishing world, in the hope and confidence of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Plant and plow the field that you are given to cultivate.  Tend the sheep placed under your care.

Do it all for God’s sake, because of His command.  And do it for your neighbor’s sake, for the love of God, by faith in the Word and promise of the Gospel.  That is to say, love your neighbor as you are now and ever loved by the Lord your God; not for selfish gain or benefit, but for Jesus’ sake.

Do not suppose, neither at the beginning nor at the end of the day, that you will be praised or rewarded with some kind of special bonus for doing your duties.  Realize, instead, that you have such duties because you are God’s own handiwork; that your body and life are a gift of His grace to begin with; and that your calling as a Christian has given you a place within His Kingdom.

There is nothing for you to gain by bargaining with God or presuming to obtain His favor with your labors.  But consider all the ways in which you shirk and short-change your responsibilities.  And examine your sinful heart, which longs to get by with as little as possible, yet aims to work for the righteousness of God, as though it were such a small or simple thing that you could manage.

But, no, the Kingdom of God and His righteousness are no such wages that you could ever earn for yourself.  They are a grace that is given by the mercies of God in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  And they are received in the way of a little child, in the humility of need and dependance.

The only wages you have earned are the death and damnation you deserve for your unbelief and sins.  Eternal Life, however, is the utterly free gift of God for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Within His Kingdom — in the Communion of His one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church — you do not (and you cannot) work for a living.  You live by the free grace of God in Christ Jesus.

Live, then, by faith in His Righteousness.  Live unto God in peace and joy, in confidence and hope.  And so live in love for your neighbor, caring for him or her as your dear Lord Jesus cares for you.

For the Lord Jesus Christ, though He is the one true God, and though He is your rightful Master, He indeed girds Himself in order to serve you.  He gets down on His hands and knees, as it were, to wash your dirty feet with pure water and His Word.  As in your Holy Baptism, whether earlier this morning or many years ago, so throughout your life He cleanses your conscience and sanctifies your body and soul by His Word and Holy Spirit, especially in Confession & Holy Absolution.  For as He has given Himself for you on the Cross, so does He give Himself to you in His Church.

He is the One who labors in the fields to harvest you unto Himself by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  And having thus called you, He tends you as the sheep of His pasture.  He nurtures and sustains you with the green grass of His Word.  He welcomes you into His House and Home, a child of His own dear God and Father, and He invites you to recline here at His Table, that He might serve you from His own hand.  He is your Host, your Waiter, and your Meal, for He feeds you with His own Body, and He pours out His Blood for you to drink.

Here it is that Life and Immortality are brought to light for you by the Ministry of His Gospel.  Here at His Altar is the heart and center of the Christian faith and life.  For here in His Holy Supper is your true Peace and Sabbath Rest in Him, the Lord who loves you, now and forevermore.

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