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.

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