30 November 2016

Prepared By and For the Coming of Christ

For the culture around you, what passes for “Advent” begins the day after Thanksgiving with Black Friday and the shopping season frenzy.  But for the Church, the Season of Advent begins with the Sunday closest to this day, the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle.  And there could hardly be a more appropriate starting point to your preparations for the Coming of Christ Jesus.

To begin with, St. Andrew was a disciple of St. John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament Prophets and the Forerunner of the Christ.  St. John is a particularly significant Advent figure, and we’ll be hearing more about him (and from him) in the weeks before us.  For he is the Voice of God, crying out in the wilderness to prepare the Way of the Lord.  And it is by his preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins that St. Andrew was brought to Christ Jesus.

In much the same way, you also are prepared for the coming of Christ, you are brought to Him and given to follow Him as a disciple, by the office and ministry of St. John the Baptist, that is, by the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins in the Name of the Lord.

You could not prepare yourself for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But, with Andrew and the other disciples, you are prepared for Christ and brought to Him by His Word and Sacrament.

The preaching of the Law calls you to repentance by exposing your sin and your desperate need for a Savior.  Do not grow weary of hearing that Word, for it remains true throughout your life, until you shall return to the dust from which you are taken.  As you examine your life according to the Law of the Lord and His Ten Commandments, you discover nothing in you but sin and death.  You do not love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  You do not call upon His Name at all times and in all places.  You do not give your full attention to His Word and preaching.  And for all of this, for all your lack of faith and love, it is true that what you deserve is nothing else but punishment, the righteous wrath and eternal punishment of God.

Confronted by this condemnation of the Law, your only proper and appropriate response is sorrow at your sin, humble contrition, and true repentance.

And already the Lord’s response is to meet your sin with His Word and preaching of the Gospel, His gracious Word of Holy Absolution, His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, which is given to you in the Name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God,” who takes upon Himself and takes away the sins of the whole world.

This simple description of Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” as St. John describes Him to Andrew and the other disciples, is an extraordinarily rich and significant proclamation of the Gospel.  It first of all recalls the sacrifices that Yahweh provided for the atonement and forgiveness of His people.  But it also signifies that Jesus is the Lamb whom God has provided for Himself, in the place of young Isaac, and in the place of all the sons and daughters of man.  And as such, it points to Jesus as the true and everlasting Passover Lamb, whose Blood now covers His people forever from death and judgment, and whose Body feeds them as the Meal of Salvation and fellowship with the Lord.

Hearing this Word of the Lord on a regular basis, the preaching of His Law and His Gospel, is the way and the means by which you remember and live within the ongoing significance of your Holy Baptism, to which His Word called you from the outset.  Day by day, His Law crucifies your flesh and calls you to repentance, and His Gospel raises you up with Christ Jesus in His Resurrection, adorning you with His perfect righteousness and holiness, so that you are ready for His Coming.

Thus do you live the Christian life, the daily discipline of repentance and forgiveness.  And thus are you prepared throughout Advent, along with St. Andrew, as a disciple of St. John the Baptist.  But then also, with St. Andrew, you are catechized to follow Christ Jesus as one of His disciples.

That is one of the main points to this Holy Gospel.  St. Andrew did not remain with St. John the Baptist.  The Forerunner’s task (and the task of preachers to this day) is to prepare the people for the Christ, to lead the people to the Christ, and to entrust them to Christ Jesus alone.  So it was that St. John’s Baptism became the Baptism of Christ and His Spirit, and St. John’s preaching of repentance was for the forgiveness of sins because it pointed the people to the Lamb of God.

It may not have been easy for St. John to let go of his own disciples and to send them after Christ.  He likely struggled with his pride and the temptation of his own self-importance.  But the Word and Spirit of the Lord gave St. John the strength to carry out faithfully the duties of his office, as we have heard, for example, in this case of St. Andrew.  “Behold the Lamb of God,” St. John declared.  And that was all it took.  From that point, St. Andrew would follow the Lord Jesus.

It’s not just a case of chasing after Him to get His autograph.  St. Andrew addresses the Lord as “Rabbi” (teacher), and thereby acknowledges that he will learn all things from Jesus.  Being a “disciple” in this way is more than going to classes, reading books, doing your homework, and taking exams, as though the Christian faith and life were some kind of academic pursuit or a terminal degree program.  Being a disciple certainly does involve the learning of facts and the acquisition of knowledge, but that is really only one small part of discipleship.

As a disciple of Jesus, St. Andrew would learn how to live his entire life from his new Rabbi.  He would be learning life itself.  He would “eat, sleep, and breathe” the Way of Christ, like a new recruit in boot camp.  That is what it means to be a disciple: For you now, as for Andrew then.

That is the significance of finding out where Jesus is staying, and then coming to abide with Him there.  The disciples of Jesus live their entire life with Him, both day and night, 24/7.  For He is the Word of God made Flesh who tabernacles with us, and as the Lamb who is sacrificed for our sins and raised from the dead, He is Himself the Temple wherein we live and abide with God.

Along with St. Andrew, you are called to find your entire life in Christ Jesus, to follow Him and learn all things from Him as a disciple.  From the waters of your Baptism into Christ, you live and walk in the Way of the Lord in daily repentance and by faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  And you also come and see where He is staying, and you stay with Him in the House of the Lord; which is to say that you live and abide with Him within His Body, the Church.

It is within His Church that you “eat, sleep, and breathe” Christ Jesus, learning from Him, from His Cross and Resurrection, how to live and how to die by faith in His Word as a Christian.  Here it is that you recall the significance of your Baptism, the door by which you first entered into His House.   And here you participate in the “Household Meal” of His New Testament Passover.

As in the case of St. Andrew, following Christ Jesus and living with Him in His House is not a selfish or solitary pursuit.  There is no such thing as a private Christian.  Rather, as St. Andrew first sought and found his brother, Simon, seek out your family and friends; urge them to come and see and join with you in receiving the forgiveness, life, and salvation of the Christ who has come.

Do it by confessing the Word that you have heard, and by the example of your life in accordance with that Word.  As you learn to live your entire life by faith in Christ, as a Christian disciple, show forth His Gospel in dealing with your neighbors.  Demonstrate the same grace, mercy, and forgiveness that you receive from Christ.  This most natural evangelism isn’t any sort of program; it is a way of life in the Way of Christ, just as He teaches you to live in Him.  So, like St. Andrew, bring others to Jesus by bringing them to His Church, to the House where He is found in the flesh.

To be sure, in bringing his brother, Simon Peter, to Christ Jesus, St. Andrew also foreshadowed the additional way in which he and his brother would be called to serve the Lord.  For these men were not only called to follow Jesus as disciples — as you and all Christians are called to follow Jesus and to learn from Him — but they were also called and sent as Apostles of the same Lord Jesus Christ.  And that is quite another matter altogether, for which we give thanks and celebrate.

As an Apostle, St. Andrew was sent in the Name and stead of Christ, as a personal representative of the Good Shepherd.  In that office and vocation, he continued the Ministry of St. John the Baptist and of Jesus Himself.  He baptized others into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, he preached the Word unto repentance and faith, and he fed the sheep with the very Lamb of God.

In all of these ways and means, the Ministry of the Gospel is more than just a word or message about Jesus.  It is the real presence and proclamation of Christ Himself, who comes to you here and now by these very Means of Grace to prepare you for His coming in glory for the final judgment.

Although we have not received any written record of St. Andrew’s preaching and teaching as part of the New Testament Scriptures, he remains (along with St. Peter and the other Apostles) an important and integral part of that “foundation of the Apostles and Prophets,” upon which the Christian Church on earth has been established by the Lord Jesus Christ, even to this day.

Our blessed Lord, in His own divine wisdom and great mercy, chose to call St. Andrew to that Apostolic Ministry of His Gospel, for the benefit of His Church and to the glory of His holy Name.  And as St. John writes in his Book of the Revelation, we know that St. Andrew’s name, as one of the “Twelve Apostles of the Lamb,” adorns the foundation of the Holy City, New Jerusalem, the very city of heaven itself, for which we wait and hope and daily pray, especially during Advent.

In a very real sense, that Apostolic Ministry began when St. Andrew left St. John the Baptist and took his brother with him to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.  From that day, the very same Apostolic Ministry has continued by the grace of the same Lord Jesus throughout the centuries, also here and now to you, by which you are prepared for the Salvation ready to be revealed on the Last Day.

By this Ministry of the Gospel, by the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins, and by the Body and Blood of the Lamb, given and poured out for you to eat and drink, you are prepared to face your death and your own “judgment day,” as St. Andrew was prepared by the same Word and Sacraments of Christ for his own courageous death as a Christian martyr.

Having been baptized into the death and Resurrection of Christ, and having been fed by His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion, St. Andrew knew by faith that he had been made ready by Christ Jesus Himself, in body and soul, for the life everlasting.  So also for you and all who are baptized into Christ.  Even your death from this mortal life is not able to separate you from Him.

That is what the Feast of St. Andrew and the penitential Season of Advent are really all about.

No matter how much Advent and the shopping season might coincide on the calendar, they are as different as night and day.  In the one case, you prepare yourself for a frenzy of fun by spending lots of money, time, and energy, and by working hard to do and do and do a million things.  But in the other case, in the Season of Advent, you do nothing for yourself.  You spend nothing, and you do no work at all, but you receive by grace the free forgiveness, life, and salvation of Christ.

Here within His Church you are prepared for the coming of Christ Jesus, for that day when He shall call you from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven, by the coming of the same Lord Jesus Christ right here and now in the Ministry of His Gospel.  For He is here with you in the flesh, the very Lamb of God who takes away, not only the sins of the world, but all of your sins.

And so it is that, with St. Andrew, and with all the saints who have gone before us in the faith of the Lord Jesus, you are baptized in His Name as a beloved and well-pleasing child of His God and Father in heaven.  You are forgiven by the grace of His Gospel.  You are fed from His Table and served by His love.  And by this Apostolic Ministry of Christ, you are given His Life Everlasting.

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

27 November 2016

Your King Comes to Reign from His Cross

This morning we have approached the destination of our dear Lord’s steadfast journey, from the womb of the Blessed Virgin and the Bethlehem manger, to Golgatha and the grave.  For having taken upon Himself all your sickness, suffering, sin, and death, He prepares to hand Himself over to the Cross, to offer Himself as the Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the whole world.

It is to this end and for this sacred purpose that Christ the King has come.  Not by might, not by power, but by His Spirt He comes to take up the Cross and die in your stead.  And strange as it might seem by the standards of the world, and by the sinful standards of your own heart and mind, it is by His sacrificial death that He is crowned, and from His Cross that He reigns as your King.

Heretofore, you have had no true Lord nor real King, but you have been held captive in the devil’s power, a citizen of his hellish kingdom, condemned to die, and blinded by your own sinfulness.

But now draws near this King, who comes to you with righteousness and salvation, yet all meek and humble on the back of a donkey.  He comes to raise the standard of His Cross over you in love, to claim you as His own, that you might live henceforth with Him in His Kingdom in righteousness and purity forever, even as He has conquered death and lives and reigns to all eternity.

So, if it seems strange that Advent now begins with Palm Sunday, with the entry of our Lord Jesus into Jerusalem on the brink of His Passion, the wisdom of the Church has for centuries done so, that she might remember the purpose for which the Christ-Child comes.  He is born of the Woman, He is born under the Law, so that by His Cross He might redeem those who are under the Law.

St. Matthew likewise recalls the Nativity of our Lord in this Holy Gospel.  For the people greet Jesus as the “Son of David,” just as the genealogy of Christ and the visit of the angel to St. Joseph have testified.  The whole city is “shaken” today by the coming of King Jesus, just it was disturbed by the visit of the Magi at the time of His birth.  And He is here described by the multitudes as the Prophet from Nazareth, thus recalling His earthly heritage and His childhood home.

Approaching the Nativity of Christ from the perspective of His much-later entry into Jerusalem helps to clarify that Advent is far more than simply a season of Christmas preparations.  You might easily remember that it is certainly more than decorations and baking, parties and presents; and many will remind you, as you will remind others, to keep Christ in Christmas.  But the point is that Advent is more than Christmas-preparation-tide, spiritual or otherwise.

“Advent,” as you may know, is Latin for the “coming.”  But there is a three-fold coming of Christ Jesus to which the Church gives attention during Advent Tide.  It is a three-fold coming of the Lord Jesus, which sets the stage for the entire Church Year, and really for your entire Christian life.

Although it typically receives the most attention, the coming of Christ on that first Christmas is the least significant focus of Advent.  Not that Christmas is unimportant.  It is quite right  that you remember and give thanks for the Nativity of our Lord Jesus, not only during Advent and at Christmas, but all year long.  Indeed, His coming in the flesh, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is necessary for everything else, for your salvation, and for all of the ways that He comes to you.

But neither Advent nor Christmas is simply a nostalgic recollection of history.  These seasons are not a visit from the “Ghost of Christmas Past,” calling you to shame for your forgetfulness.  They are a celebration of the present grace of God in Christ, and of His promise for the future.  And all of this hinges on the coming of Christ Jesus in the flesh, not only once upon a time, but here and now in His Church, and again when He shall come to bring you from this mortal life into Paradise.

The first and most significant Advent, therefore, is the coming of Christ right here and now in this time and place.  He does so in much the same way as He retrieves that donkey in this Holy Gospel.  He sends some of His disciples as the Ministers of His Word to speak and act on His behalf.  And so it is that His men now come to you in His Name to deal with you by His authority as your Lord.

He sends them to find those who are bound, to loose them from their sins, and to bring them to Himself.  For this task He gives to them His Word of command and of promise, and so also the washing of the water with His Word, and the giving of His Body and His Blood in remembrance of Him.  It is by this Ministry of His Gospel–Word and Sacraments that He comes to you today in preparation for His coming again.  And these Gifts of Christ are the special focus of Advent.

As your true King thus comes to you in these several ways — at Christmas, by His Holy Ministry, and at your Last Day — He comes to reign over you by and from His Cross.  As you remember His sacred Nativity, as you receive Him to yourself in His Gospel, and as you rejoice in the promise of His glorious coming, your hope and your confidence are found in His Cross and Passion.

It is to that Cross that He approaches, as He draws near to Jerusalem.  And by His Word to you this morning, He draws near to reveal both how and why He comes to reign as your King from His Cross.  He comes in humility and meekness.  He comes to help you and to save you from your sin.

His humility and meekness are foretold by the Prophet Zechariah, stressed by St. Matthew, and demonstrated especially by the humble donkey and her colt.  For Jesus comes, not on a warhorse, but on a beast of burden, which is what He Himself becomes in bearing the burden of your sin.  All of this He does and bears, unto the perfection of His humility and meekness on the Cross.

He humbles Himself unto death, even the death of His Cross, and there He meekly bears the righteous wrath and judgment of God against all of your sins, in order to rescue and redeem you from the damnation that would otherwise await you and all people on the final Judgment Day.  For in your pompous pride and sinful arrogance, thinking of yourself more highly than you should, you have rejected the Lord your God and followed your own willful pursuits.

If you examine yourself honestly according to the Ten Commandments, as the Lord has taught you to do, then you shall sadly find that there is nothing else in you but sin and death, from which you could never by any means set yourself free.  That was and is your predicament apart from Christ Jesus, as St. Paul has made clear in his Epistle to the Romans.

Thus, for example, when St. Paul writes that Love is the fulfillment of the Law, you should rightly hear and understand that God commands you to love your neighbor as yourself, and that you are not permitted to do any harm of any kind to anyone — not in your thoughts, not with your words, and not by your behavior.  To love and not to hurt is not a matter of personal opinion or free choice.  It is the Law of God, which condemns your lack of love and threatens to punish your sins.

The truth is that you have not loved your neighbor as yourself.  You have lusted after the flesh.  You have gotten angry and kindled hatred in your heart.  You have wasted the gifts of God and withheld them from your neighbor in his need, loving money and stuff more than other people.  You have gossiped and complained against even your brothers and sisters in Christ.  You have burned with envy and jealousy for the blessings that God has chosen to give to others.  In all of these ways and many more, you live in the darkness of sin and are deserving of death and hell.

But the words of St. Paul become the Words of sweetest comfort when they are heard in the light of the Holy Gospel.  For all that Jesus did and suffered took place in accordance with the Word of the Prophets.   His Love for you and for all people is the fulfillment of His Law.  For God is Love, and He has loved you with an everlasting Love and given Himself for you in the flesh of Christ.

He has been faithful to His adulterous Bride.  He has given life to His murderous children.  He has given all things to those who have greedily wasted His gifts of creation.  He has defended you, spoken well of you, and registered His own good works to your credit and account.  He has not desired to deprive you of any good thing, but has coveted your sin and death and taken these upon Himself, that He might give you His forgiveness in their place, His righteousness and eternal life.

It is divine Love, incarnate in Christ Jesus, that has fulfilled the Law of God, both for you and on your behalf.  He does you no harm, but draws near to bring you His salvation.  And so He does by giving you nothing less than Himself.  He has dressed you with Himself and His righteousness in your Holy Baptism, so that you are now able to clothe yourself in Christ by recalling the daily and lifelong significance of your Baptism.  He feeds you with Himself, with His own Body and Blood, so that your mortal flesh and blood might be made brand new and perfected in His divine image.

As your dear King comes to you and reigns over you with His Cross, so does He draw near to your neighbor in you.  By your words and deeds of charity, He loves your neighbor as He loves you.

So does your King come to reign from His Cross.  He comes to rescue and deliver you from the threatening perils of your sin, from death and the devil, and to save you by His mighty deliverance.  But His “mighty deliverance” is accomplished for you in the humblest of ways and means.

Born for you in a stable on the outskirts of a tiny little no-place town.  Living homeless on earth with no place to lay His head.  Ridiculed, tormented, and convicted to die by His own citizens, the very people He has come to save.  Crucified, dead, and buried.  Even following His Resurrection, in the ongoing life of His Church on earth, He sends the most humble of men to be His apostolic ministers, the pastors of His lambs and sheep; and He equips them with such humble, ordinary means — with human words, with water, bread, and wine — nothing much to see on the surface.

Even so, in all these ways, by all these means, He is your King who comes to reign from His Cross.  To be your Savior from sin by the forgiveness of His Blood.  To slay death forever, to conquer hell, to trample Satan underfoot and crush his serpent-head.  All of this He has done for you by His Cross.  And now He shares His “mighty deliverance” with you by uniting you with Himself in His Cross and Resurrection, by cleansing you in the waters of His Baptism, by speaking to you His Spirit-filled Word of Absolution, and by feeding you with His own sacrificial Body and Blood.

Words and water, bread and wine.  Holy Absolution, Body and Blood.  These are the ways and means that He has given to His Church and to His Christian people.  It is by these good gifts of His Gospel that your King comes to reign over you with all the treasures of His Cross, in order to save you from sin, to deliver you from death and the devil, and to help you in every trouble.

The means of grace are no more impressive than a manger, than a donkey, than a Cross.  But being the means of Christ, they are no less real, no less divine, and no less powerful to give you His Life.

Therefore, do not neglect His grace and mercy toward you.  And do not be ashamed to receive this Crucified One as your King, who comes to reign among you from His Cross.  His humility and His meekness are the very power and wisdom of God.  They are your righteousness and salvation.

Rejoice, therefore, O daughter of Zion!  Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your King is coming to you here and now!  Greet Him with your glad “hosannas” of faith, and with the palms of piety and holy living.  And together with the Church of His disciples — those who have gone before, and those who shall follow after — receive Him as the Christ, your Lord and Savior, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the crucified and living King of all creation, of the heavens and the earth and of all that is in them, both now and forever.

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

23 November 2016

The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving in Christ

It truly is meet, right, and salutary that you should at all times, and in all places, and for all things, give thanks to your God and Father in heaven through your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Give thanks to Him, first of all, for His most precious gift, that is, for the Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins, and then also for every other good thing that you have.  For all of the blessings in your life are bestowed upon you for the sake of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God.

In love for you, He has gone out of His way to seek you out and save you.  In making His way to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world, He deliberately goes out of His way to tread upon the ground of Gentiles, pagans, Samaritans, strangers and aliens.  He goes out of His way to seek and to save the lost.  He goes looking for you, who once were nobody at all, but now, because He has found you and called you to Himself, you are a child of God and one of His dear people.

He has come for this purpose, in order to have mercy upon you.  When you pray, “Lord, have mercy,” you discover that He is already answering that petition.  For He is Mercy in the Flesh, in Person.  He has come to have mercy upon you, and in His mercy to save you from sin and from death, and from all that troubles and attacks you, from your great enemy, the devil, from your own old Adam, and from the sinful world around you.  He has come to set you free.

He’s come to do it by His Cross, by His innocent suffering and death in the flesh, bearing your sins in His Body.  And all good things He has granted to you in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  His salvation is not a disembodied “spiritual” existence, but a resurrection of your body and life in Him, that you should live forever in both body and soul with your God and Father in heaven.

Everything that you need for both body and soul, for this life and for the life everlasting, all of it is from Jesus, and through Jesus, and in Jesus, in His crucified and risen Body.  And it all depends on His forgiveness of sins.  You are worthy of none of those things that you need and for which you pray.  He gives them to you solely by His grace, or you do not receive them at all.  His grace must necessarily forgive your sins, if you are to have life at all instead of the death you deserve.

Upon that forgiveness of God, which is in Christ Jesus your Lord, everything else depends.

It is for this reason that Christ has come, and by His death He has achieved the forgiveness of all your sins; and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  He’s reconciled the world to God.  And so it is that, even though the world does not know Him or recognize Him or want anything to do with Him, it carries on for now by His grace, eating and drinking, living and breathing, all on account of His Cross, because of the atoning sacrifice of His death in the place of sinners everywhere.  It is likewise for the sake of His Cross that all things are yours in Him.

Whatever it is you need, look to God in Christ to receive it.  Pray to your Father in Jesus’ Name, that is to say, trusting Him who is your Savior, who has given Himself for you.  Do not suppose that any aspect of your life is removed from His gracious care.  Do not suppose that any petition is too small or too great.  For you are precious to the Lord your God through Jesus Christ, His Son.

Are you afraid for your job or for your income?  For your savings or your pension?  Pray that God would be merciful to you and provide for all of your needs.  Are you worried about your health, or about the health of your family?  Pray to your Father in heaven in Jesus’ Name, and trust that He will give healing according to His good and gracious will for your salvation.

Are you worried about your children, as to what they will do and what will become of them?  Are you worried about your friends, whether they love you, or whether they will turn their backs on you and leave?  Are you worried about the government or the country and where it’s all headed?

Whatever your worries and concerns, Pray.  That is what Christians do.  That is what faith does.  It cries out, “Lord, have mercy! Kyrie, eleison!”  That is the prayer of the lepers.  And hear how Jesus responds.  He looks upon them.  He sees them in mercy.  And He answers their prayer.  He sends them on their way, and as they go, according to His Word, they are cleansed.

So also for you.  By the Word of Christ you are cleansed, inside and out, for now and forever.  For He is the Good Physician of both soul and body.  Therefore, trust in Him.  Pray to Him in the hope of His mercy, and wait upon Him in peace.  Rely upon Him for all that you need.

It is unto that fear, love, and trust in Christ Jesus that your Father in heaven disciplines you in love.  Not to discourage or destroy you, nor to cause you pain, but rather to increase your faith and trust in Christ.  He would thus teach you how to live, because He would not have you die.

He teaches you to call upon His Name, to petition Him for mercy.  And so also to intercede for others.  For your own family and your friends.  For your neighbors, even for your enemies and those who hurt you.  And especially for your fellow Christians, your brothers and sisters in Christ.

You pray and intercede for the world and for all people in the confidence that God desires every one of them to be saved.  And you do so in the certainty of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

And with that prayer and petition, because His grace and mercy are so certain, and because God gave His Son to save the world and raised Him from the dead, it is indeed meet, right, and salutary that you should also give Him thanks and praise.  Not only when times are good, but at all times, both good and bad.  At the end of every day, no matter what calamity has struck, Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.  He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  And He will not desert you.  He is faithful, and His Word and promises are true.  Your prayers are surely heard and answered in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, the answer to all that you ask of Him has already been granted by the Cross of Christ and in His Resurrection from the dead.

You hear and receive God’s resounding “Yes!” and “Amen!” to your every need and your every petition in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God.  By His Cross all is finished.  In His Resurrection from the dead, all is fulfilled.

His Body of flesh and blood like yours, crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification, is the First Fruits of the New Creation.  It is in His Body that we look forward to a New Heavens and New Earth, the Home where righteousness dwells.  For in His Resurrection from the dead, all of creation has been redeemed and sanctified and is set free from the bondage of sin and death.  Everything is made brand new, beautiful, gracious, and lovely in the Body of Christ.

It is in His Body and with His holy and precious Blood that He lives and reigns forever as your merciful and great High Priest according to the power of His indestructible Life.  There’s nothing that can destroy Him.  And as you are in Him by His grace, there is nothing that can destroy you.

You receive everything that you need in your dear Lord, Jesus Christ.  In His Word to you.  And in His Body and His Blood, which are your sure and certain Anchor behind the Veil, within the true Holy of Holies, eternal in the heavens, yet also given and poured out for you here at His Altar in His Church on earth, that you might eat and drink and abide in Him, as He thus abides in you.

And though you may wonder how this may help, or if it even matters, it helps in every way.  For God has taken a body like your own.  He has allowed Himself to be subjected to suffering and death and every evil, and to the righteous judgment of His own Law.  He has been tempted in every way that you are.  He has endured the infirmities of mortal flesh and blood.  He has gotten tired.  He knows what a hard day’s work is like, and then some!  He knows what it feels like to hunger and to thirst, and to have nowhere to lay His head.  He knows what it is like to be abandoned by His friends, to be rejected by His own, to be spit upon and mocked and ridiculed and scorned.  He has taken all of this sorrow and has borne it in His flesh, and He has dealt with it all by His death.

And from death He has been vindicated.  He has overcome.  He has risen from the dead, just as He said.  And with that very flesh and blood by which He has overcome sin, death, the devil, and hell, He feeds you in your own flesh.  How could He love you more clearly and dearly than that?  And how could He grant you His Salvation more profoundly and intimately than that?  For your body He has died and risen, and to your body He gives His own Life.

Get you then to that good Priest in His Sacrament of the Altar!  For His Holy Supper is the heart and center of God’s Kingdom among you.  Do you want to know where to find God?  He is here.  Do you want to know where and how to worship Him and give Him thanks?  It is especially here.

That is, in many ways, the main point to this beautiful story that St. Luke has recorded.  And the Samaritan gets it.  But note that all ten men went at the Word of Jesus, and they were all healed.  Do not suppose the other nine were faithless and unbelieving.  They did what Jesus said and went to the priest.  They were cleansed by the rites and ceremonies that God had given through Moses.

The Samaritan, however, by the grace of God, recognized and understood something deeper, something even more profound.  By the Word and Spirit of the Lord, He perceived that the Temple of God was now to be found in the Body of Christ Jesus; that he would praise and glorify God by prostrating himself at the feet of Jesus; and that, in giving thanks to Jesus, he was thanking God.  For God is in the Flesh of Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, dwelling among you bodily.

He is not far away and far removed from you.  He has drawn near.  In His Holy Supper is where God is in your midst as your merciful High Priest, as the true Temple, and as the Sacrifice once offered for the sins of the world, now distributed to His people as their real Food and real Drink.

Here is where He gives you salvation.  Here is where He gives you His indestructible Life.  So that, even if cancer eats away at your flesh, and even if Alzheimer’s takes your mind, and whatever other ailments may destroy your body, they still cannot win.  For you shall rise, since God has put His own Flesh into yours.  The One who has risen from the dead shall raise you up with Himself.

The Altar from which Christ gives you His Body and Blood is thus also the place of thanksgiving.  That is why the Church from the earliest days has described the Holy Communion as the Eucharist, which is simply the Greek word for thanksgiving, the very thing that Samaritan offered to Jesus.

In receiving His good gifts, you give Him thanks especially in this place.  But not only here.  You live your whole life to and from this Altar, to and from the Body and Blood of Jesus.  As He feeds you, give Him thanks, and then also go your way — stand up and go — in thanksgiving to Him.

Nothing really characterizes the entire Christian life better than to give thanks to God in Christ for all His gifts and benefits.  To give thanks under all circumstances, at all times, and in all places.  To give thanks even when everything is falling apart.  To give thanks, even in the face of sin and death, is to confess and rejoice that Christ is risen indeed, and that you shall not die but live.

Go about your life in that thanksgiving, in that confidence of faith, in that hope of Christ which shall not disappoint you.  Do what you are given to do.  Do it not to receive thanks from God or man, but do it in thanksgiving to Him who is your Savior and your God by His grace alone.  Do it in thanksgiving to Him who forgives you all your sins and heals all of your diseases and gives you life everlasting.  For He is with you, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Your whole life can be one of thanksgiving because of Him.  And take heart that He remains sure and steadfast for you, even when your gratitude falters and your lips and tongue grow silent.  He remains faithful.  He remains forever the One who has been sacrificed to God on your behalf, so that, by His grace, you might be raised up with Him in His Resurrection and live forever in Him.

Here, then, receive His good gifts.  Be cleansed and healed by His Word and Holy Spirit, by His Body and His Blood.  For He is your all-merciful Savior, and to Him belongs all glory, honor, thanks, and praise, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

20 November 2016

Today You Shall Be with Me in Paradise

Do you not fear God?  For you also will die, whether today, or tomorrow, or later.  And then will come the final judgment when you should rightly be condemned and punished for all of your sins of thought, word, and deed.

Of course it is true, by the grace of God, that you do not despise and mock your dear Lord Jesus Christ.  Indeed, you love Him, and you follow Him, and you pray to Him who is your Savior.  But is your devotion to Him ordered by His Word and Holy Spirit in repentant faith?  Or do you weep over Him in all the wrong ways, for all the wrong reasons?

It is entirely possible, and altogether too common, to be all worked up and emotional about Jesus, and yet to be all mixed up and wrong headed about Him.  In fact, notwithstanding your prideful self-confidence, getting it right is beyond your ability.  What you imagine or feel about Jesus in your head or in your heart will mislead you and deceive you apart from His Word.

True religion is neither esoteric nor impractical.  It’s not about mushy good feelings, nor is it an opiate for the masses.  Rather, it informs and gives significant meaning to your entire life, to who you are and what you do, like nothing else can.  But true religion depends upon the one true God, on knowing Him rightly and living before Him in faith and love.  And none of this is within your power, wisdom, reason, or strength.  You can neither do it, nor can you even understand it.

The one true God is entirely present and fully revealed in the Cross and Crucifixion of Christ Jesus.  In this humble and humiliated Man on His way to die.  In this convicted Criminal being executed by the governing authorities.  You do not have the Lord your God anywhere else than Him.  Nor can you find Him anywhere else, but only by way of His Cross and Passion.

It is by and from His Cross that the true and only God reigns over you in love as your King.

But look around you.  Look at the world around you.  Look at your home and family.  Examine your own heart and life.  And consider how often it is, that there is no king in Israel!  Not that He’s not around.  He’s there alright, the true King, hanging on the Tree in shame and bitter woe.  But who recognizes Him or reverences Him there?  Who acknowledges the King upon His Throne?

See what they do to Him.  See what you and your sins do to this King, and to His Tree, so green and full of life with His Body upon it.  What then shall become of a tree that is dry and lifeless?

And what sort of tree are you?  Are you living and fruitful?  Or are you dried up and dead?

When you recognize that it is God who hangs naked on the Tree of the Cross for you; that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Him, as He is nailed through His hands and feet, crowned with thorns, pierced and wounded, beaten, bruised, and bleeding.  That He dies in love for you.  That God is there, hungering and thirsty.  That God is despised and afflicted, mocked and scorned.  That God is accursed by and because of your sins, for your idolatry and unbelief.  That God suffers the judgment and condemnation that you rightly deserve. . . .

When you realize and consider that, not only is God here crucified for you, but it is only by His Cross, by His innocent suffering and death, that He reveals Himself and gives Himself to you — and you have God nowhere else than there — then you will also see Him and serve Him in His poor and lowly and despised children and disciples.  You will recognize that God your Savior has identified Himself with the homeless and the hungry, with the persecuted and the imprisoned, with the bedraggled and beleaguered, and with those who are thirsty and in need of all kinds of help.

Do not weep for Jesus, nor presume to shed any tears for Him, while you turn a cold shoulder and a deaf ear to your neighbors, even to the least of them who are your Lord’s brothers and sisters.

Weep rather for yourself, and for your sins, and for your unbelief.  Weep also for your neighbor in loving compassion, and then, what is more, do what you can to be of help and service to him.

Repent of your sins, and so bear the fruits of true repentance, which are the fruits of the Cross.

Invest yourself, your time, your treasures, and your talents, your wisdom, reason, and strength — invest all of it, everything that you are and all that you have, in bearing and confessing the Cross of your Lord Jesus Christ.  Speak the Word of His Cross as the very Truth of God, which puts to shame the supposed truth and wisdom of the world, and which also crucifies and puts to shame your own supposed wisdom, cleverness, and skills.  And as you speak, so also take up the Cross and carry it in love for your Lord and for those He has placed around you in this body and life.

By faith in Christ, by your Baptism into Him, you are a daughter of Jerusalem, a son of Abraham, indeed, a child of God.  And you are called to live a holy life according to His Word, which is to say, by the divine wisdom of His Cross and Passion.  What that is going to mean, and what that is going to look like in your life, will differ from the Cross that your neighbor is given to carry.  But each and every Christian is governed and guided by the Cross of Christ.  You are called to follow Him on the Way of the Cross within your own context and in all of your relationships, using whatever talents the Lord has provided to fulfill your duties to the glory of His holy Name.

The real meaning and the true purpose of your life are found in Christ the Crucified.  Not in what you do and accomplish for yourself, as though to advance your own agenda, but in what you receive from Him by the Ministry of His grace and so hand over to your neighbor in love.  In this way you honor Christ and His Sacrifice.  You love as He loves.  As His Kingdom comes to you in the mercy of His Gospel, so does His Kingdom come in mercy to your neighbor through you.

Do not dream that it is up to you to pick and choose where and how, or even if and when, you will live by such faith and serve your neighbor in love.  You are called to do so wherever the Lord has placed you, by whatever ways and means He has entrusted to your stewardship.

You are a servant of the King and a citizen of His Kingdom.  You are not a free agent, a neutral country, an independent nation, or an island unto yourself.  His Word is your Law, no less so than His Word is your Life, your Light, and your Salvation.  Hear it and heed it, believe it, and obey it.

Live in the confidence that He is the true King who reigns over you in love, with mercy upon you, and with forgiveness for all your sins.  By His Cross, He has redeemed you, purchased and won you for His very own, that you should live with Him in His Kingdom forever and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  He has become your King, not to enslave or burden you, but to set you free from sin, death, and the devil, and to give you peace and rest.

Unlike the rulers of this world, He is the Lord and King whose glory it is to give you life and to bestow His generous gifts upon you.  His almighty power is manifest in showing mercy and pity — perfected in His own voluntary weakness, in His innocent suffering and death on your behalf.

You rightly call Him your Master, and you reverence Him as your Sovereign.  But consider and take to heart that He is here among you according to His good and gracious will, according to His mercy, and has become your Servant.  He has not come to be served, but to serve you with His own Body and Life: in His death upon the Cross, once for all, and now in the Ministry of His Gospel, for the forgiveness of your sins, for your righteousness and salvation.  And the fact that He chooses freely to do so in love for you, that is His greatness, that is His glory.  It is the manifestation of His divinity as the one true God in His own true Flesh and Blood, and of His divine Royalty.

The great green Tree of Christ the King, which sinful man has presumed to destroy, has borne all the more abundant fruit in His death.  The leaves of His Tree are forgiveness for the healing of the nations, and the Body and Blood that it bears are given and poured out for you and for the many for life and salvation with Him, both now and forever.

It is by this Tree of the Cross — planted among you by the Lord Himself, by the preaching of His Gospel — it is by this Tree from which He reigns over you and over His New Israel, the Church — it is by this Tree of the Cross that Paradise has truly been restored and fulfilled forevermore.

Today, He is with you, and you are with Him in that Paradise, in the Kingdom of His grace, on earth as it is in heaven.  Take, eat.  Drink.  Your King here feeds you at His royal Table and pours out for you His royal Cup.  Do not weep, daughter of Jerusalem.  Do not weep, son of Abraham.  Rather, rejoice, give thanks, and sing!  For Christ your King remembers you, and He saves you.

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

13 November 2016

Lift Up Your Heads unto Christ

Heads up.  Keep your wits about you.  Wake, awake, for night is flying.  Your Lord Jesus Christ has commanded you to be on the alert, to be on your guard, to be ever vigilant.

Fix your heart and mind on Christ, and do not be distracted or dismayed by the fast-fleeting world around you.  It will not last.  It is coming to a crashing end.  The heavens and the earth are passing away.  Only Christ and His Word endure forever.  He is steadfast and true.  Trust Him, and live.

Consider the example of the second-century bishop, St. Polycarp of Smyrna (who, as a little boy, may have known and sat at the feet of St. John the Apostle).  As an old man of eighty-plus years, Bishop Polycarp refused to deny his Lord Jesus Christ.  He refused to bow to the false gods of Rome.  He chose instead and preferred martyrdom.  He was burned alive at the stake in the midst of a huge arena of people jeering him and shouting for his death.  But he would not forsake his Lord Jesus.  Whereas the governor threatened him with a fire that would burn only for little while,  St. Polycarp feared the living God and His judgment, a fire that burns both soul and body forever.  More than that, he loved and trusted his true King, Jesus, who had always been faithful to him.

That is how you also ought to think about your temporal life in this world, and about the life everlasting which is yours only in Christ Jesus.  But that outlook and that perspective, that faith in Christ, it does not come to you naturally.  It is not something that you can work up for yourself.  It is not a choice or decision you can make for yourself.  The Lord must call you to repentance.  And He does.  He must bring you to faith through His Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins.  And this, too, He does.  He does forgive your sins.  And by His forgiveness, He brings you to faith.

Otherwise, despite the fact that you are not being threatened with bodily martyrdom, consider how easily you bow your heart, and bend your mind (if not your knees), and give your body over to the false gods and idols of this world.

Think about it.  Examine yourself honestly.  Where is it that you fix your hope and confidence?  What is it that you live for?  And what do you trust for your life?  For your happiness?  For your satisfaction?  What do you look forward to each day?  What do you fear, love, and trust?

Remember, again, that everything in all of creation — everything but Christ and His Word — is destined for destruction.  And you along with it, apart from Christ.  Whatever it is that you may put your hope and trust in, if it is anything other than Jesus, it is a false hope, which deceives you and threatens to destroy you, not only here and now, but forever.

Even prior to the final cataclysmic judgment, when the Lord returns in glory and brings all things to a halt, even before then, the things that you rely upon, the things that you invest so much of yourself, your time and energy in, they will all falter and fail, if not sooner, then later.

Your job will not save you.  Your occupation and profession, your hard work and achievements, none of that will last.  Neither your family and your friends, nor your country ‘tis of thee, will be able to preserve your life beyond death and the grave.  And your proud fortress of a home is not the mighty fortress to protect you, either.  Thieves can rob it.  Fire and water can destroy it.

Even nature itself, which seems so solid, which can be so beautiful and magnificent, and which seems so sure and certain, it too is coming to an end.  The sun and moon and stars will fall out of the sky.  Earthquakes, and tsunami, and tornados, and hurricanes, all show us how rent apart creation itself is by sin.  Every shooting star and every eclipse is a reminder that even the heavens will be shaken and fall apart.  The heavenly bodies are not gods.  They are creatures.  And they suffer along with you and all mankind the curse and consequences of sin.

Consequently, you will not discover or find the God of your salvation in the natural world of His good creation; not apart from the revelation and preaching of His Word.  Rather, what you find in nature, apart from the Gospel, is the God of power and might who judges the living and the dead.  And if you are out from under Christ, you will not stand in that judgment.

There is nothing that man can do to forestall it, much less to prevent it.  Man can only hasten the coming of that great and terrible day with his wars and his bloodshed, his anarchy and murder.  From playground squabbles to world wars, this is what we people are like.  We go at each other.  We hurt each other.  You hurt even those who are closest and dearest to you.

Even the Church on earth — though it is the place of Christ’s abode, the home where the Lord comes to make His dwelling with you, where He causes His Name and His Glory to abide — yes, even the Church on earth must finally give way to the Kingdom of heaven, to the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness dwells in the risen Body of Christ Jesus.

Impressive architecture, well-crafted furnishings, and beautiful artwork, all of these things are fine and good.  But the day will come when all of them will perish.  They are temporary.  They will not help or save you on Judgment Day.  Their place and purpose for now is rather to confess Christ, to catechize you in His Gospel, and to honor His Name, His Body, and His Blood in this place.

Do not take comfort in knowing that your name is on the books.  Do not take comfort in your confirmation, however many years ago that was.  Do not pride yourself in the faithfulness of your church attendance or in your piety.  Even these good things can become distractions, as the Temple in Jerusalem became a distraction to God’s people of old.

Anything other than Christ, who speaks to you in His Word and gives to you Himself in His Sacraments — anything else that you fear, love, and trust, other than Him, is a false god and idol.

So, what do you think or suppose?  By what do you presume to be saved?  Your life in this world is precarious, and that is at its best.  It is on a crash course with oblivion.  How, then, will you keep your bearings and survive?  Where shall you find any hope or any help?

Some people go looking for it in alcohol.  But that is not the answer.  And some people go looking for it in debauchery and licentiousness, in loose living and fast times.  But that won’t save you, either.  That will only hasten your own demise.

You are tempted and inclined to look for life and salvation, protection and safety in all the wrong places.  But you will not find any of this anywhere else than the Gospel of Christ the Crucified.

Now, many of the temptations that present themselves to you masquerade as angels of light, as does Satan himself, with his lying and murdering day and night under the guise of righteousness, wisdom, and the best of intentions.  There are many temptations that come to you claiming to be the very Christ Himself.  But do not be deceived by them!  Do not follow after any other lord.

Hear and heed the Word of Christ, your Savior and your God.  For His Word alone lights your way and reveals the truth, and leads you and guides you in the righteousness of faith and love.

Confess His Word.  Speak what is true, as the Lord has spoken to you.  Say it out loud, and thereby honor the Lord your God, and spite the devil, and strengthen your own faith and confidence in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  For His Word, even on your lips, is not powerless but living and life-giving.  His Word is true, though all men be liars.

His Word is truer than your own heart and mind, which are fallen and lie to you and deceive you and distract you with a pretense of certainty and wisdom.  In the midst of all the chaos and confusion, His Word is the Truth, which not only informs you of facts but actually does what He says and gives what He promises.  For His Word is Spirit and Life.

The signs of the end — signs of the end in the world around you, and signs of the end in your own mortal body and life, as it is all wearing out and dying — all of these signs of the end call you to repent.  And that is a good and necessary thing.  It is the good and gracious work of God.  For the Lord does not allow you to go skating or sailing through this mortal life on earth unhindered, lest your heart and your mind be turned away from Him to the cares and occupations of this world.

Repent, therefore, of your misplaced faith and worship.  Turn away from your false belief, despair, and shameful vice, and lift up your head and your heart unto Christ Jesus in faith.  Fear, love, and trust in Him, for He is faithful.  All that He has promised, He will do.  He cannot deny Himself.

Hear and heed His Word of the Law.  Realize and recognize your sins.  Despair of all of your false gods and your false hopes.  But do not remain in despair.  Rather, hear and heed the Word of the Gospel, the Word of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, who forgives you all your sins, strengthens your faith, and gives to you His own divine life in body and soul for now and forever.

The Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed you from sin, death, and hell by His holy and precious Blood, and even now He comes to save you with all the benefits of His Cross and Resurrection.

The great Christian author, C. S. Lewis, married a woman late in life; fell in love with her; and was devastated when she died from cancer early on.  He was stricken with grief.  And he was angry, angry with God.  And he had questions.  He could not understand how God, who is supposed to be loving and caring and merciful, would allow such a tragedy to happen in his life.  Why, oh, why does God allow sickness at all?  Why does there have to be this suffering, this pain, and this death?

C. S. Lewis wondered out loud about all of those things, and he wrote them down in a little book, A Grief Observed.  I recommend it to you.  For he did not remain with his doubts and fears and questions.  The Word and Spirit of God brought him through all of that to look at life in the light of the Cross.  That is where he was given his answers.  How could he call God into question, who allows us to suffer, since God Himself has also suffered for us?

Consider that.  The great and terrible judgment of God, His righteous wrath against the sins of the world, all of His punishment, the death and damnation that you and the entire world deserve — all of that has been suffered by God, the Son of God, in His own flesh and blood like yours.  All the signs of the end have been fulfilled in Him, in His Body on the Cross.

So it is that you are not abandoned under the Cross.  You are not alone there.  And you need not be destroyed by the Cross, leastwise not forever.  For it not only puts you to death but also raises you up with Christ.  In and with the Cross, Christ Himself is with you to save you.

He has suffered all, even the death and destruction of the Cross.  He has endured the judgment of God, and He has satisfied it.  There is, therefore, no condemnation for you in Him.  All of your sins are forgiven.  Every last one of them, they are all forgiven.  The Lord your God does not count or consider them against you, nor does He permit you to suffer the eternal consequences of your sins.  For the Son of God has made Atonement for them all.  Therefore, not death but life reigns over you in His love for you, in the righteousness of His Resurrection from the dead.

And because He has voluntarily gone down that road for you, He is also now with you, a very present help in trouble, precisely in the midst of suffering, persecution, hardship, and adversity.  He is not far away from you as you bear and carry the Cross.  He is with you especially there!  Not to remain in sorrow forever, but to raise you up with Himself unto His God and Father in heaven.

See here, the green leaves and the good fruit of the true Fig Tree, the planting of the Lord.  His Body and His Blood, these are the sacred and the salutary Produce of His Cross.  And these tell you that the everlasting summer and the sunshine of His Love and of His Kingdom are at hand.

You cannot see it with your eyes.  Not yet.  For now it is by faith that you know the Truth, because His Word and Spirit have told you that He comes to you, here and now, in the humility and weakness of the means of grace, which are the first fruits of creation’s redemption, and of your redemption, in order to bring you with Himself through suffering and death into the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.  This is most certainly true!  Amen, Amen, it shall be so!

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

06 November 2016

The Meaning of Life in the Resurrection of Christ

Your life, and everything in your life — who you are, all that you have, and all that you do — all of it does have meaning and significance in relation to God, the Lord, who has created you for life with Himself.  It has meaning and significance for you because of Christ Jesus, your Savior, the incarnate Son of God, who in His mercy has become like you in every way, save only without sin.

Your life has meaning and significance, especially in view of the Resurrection of your body to the life everlasting in Christ.  If that were not so, everything would be different, and everything would be meaningless.  But now, Christ has been raised, and in Him you also live.  You live now by faith, and you shall be raised incorruptible, imperishable, and immortal, to live forever with Him.

In the case at hand in this particular Holy Gospel, for example, He teaches you that those most fundamental and foundational aspects of life on earth, marriage and family, have meaning and significance in the presence of God.  They are established for the sake of Christ, the Son of God, with a view to the Resurrection, when you shall not even die anymore forever, but you shall be like the holy angels; more than that, you shall live forever as a child of God in Christ.

From the very beginning, marriage and family, husbands, wives, and children have always been all about Christ and His Church.  When God created Adam, and then crafted Eve from his side and brought her to him, and gave her to him, He was preaching the Gospel.  He was preaching His good intention to give life.  He was preaching Christ.  And He was preaching the gift of His Bride, the Church, to whom you belong as a dearly beloved member by His grace.

Even after the Fall, marriage remains as a bulwark against the devil’s destructive temptations and influence, and as a bulwark against the curse and consequences of sin, death, and damnation.  For here stands the institution of holy marriage, under attack by the world, but nevertheless upheld and sustained by God.  It is a living icon of the One who is our heavenly Bridegroom, and we His Eve, taken from His side, brought to Him by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, and given to Him by the Father, that He would have us and hold us forever.  That He would have and hold you and not allow sin, death, the devil, or hell to snatch you from His strong and loving embrace.

Again, even after the Fall into sin, God promised a special significance to the bearing of children.  The Seed of the Woman would crush the devil’s head.  He would atone for the sins of the world.  He would reconcile the man and his wife to God, that His purposes for them, the life He intended, would not be thwarted.  With that promise in place, every mother’s son was a kind of promise.  Every daughter born might be the Woman whose Seed would be the Savior.  Every son might be Him.  And though sons and daughters came and went, and they were not yet the ones, God was still giving life even in the midst of death, in the sure and certain hope of His promise.

That promise was for all the grown-ups, for the moms and dads and all their children, until that day when the Son of Mary came in the House and Lineage of David, the Seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Son of Adam and Eve who would redeem Adam and Eve and all their children.

With His coming in the flesh, the bearing of children has not lost its significance, but its meaning and significance have been fulfilled and made all the greater.  For every child conceived in every womb is a child whose life has been given by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Every child conceived in every womb is an object of His grace and mercy.  Every child conceived in every womb is one for whom the Son of God and of St. Mary has shed His blood and given His Life.  Every child ever born, and a nation of children yet unborn, are the objects of His Love.  They, too, are called out of sin and death into the Life everlasting with God through Jesus Christ.

Consider, too, the blessed privilege that you have, mothers and fathers, to teach your children the Word of God, to deal with them as your Father in heaven deals with you.  To pray with them.  To sing with them.  To bring them to Holy Baptism, and to bring them to the House of the Lord for as long as they are under your care.  To bring them to catechesis, and to bring them to the Lord’s Supper, that they should receive the Life that He alone can give them in body and soul forever.

So it was that all of those sons and daughters who were not the Savior or His Mother were yet called by the Spirit through the Word to become the children of God, by His grace, through faith in Him.  So it is that all who come after, who hear and receive that same call, who fear, love, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, shall be with us in heaven, even as the entire company of heaven is already gathered with us here and now around the Lamb upon His Throne.

This is what God desires for your children, also.  And this is why the Holy Scriptures give such a different sense of marriage and family than the world and your own sinful heart would assume.

The Fall into sin has made marriage seem like a burden, as though it were the curse.  At the same time, the world says that marriage is chiefly about your own fulfillment, about your own happiness, and about making your way as best you can to your own advantage.  And because the world and your fallen flesh see no greater significance than that, because they do not see Christ and His Church, the argument is that you can take it or leave it.  Try it out, and, if it doesn’t work to your liking, walk away and let it go.  That is how the world looks at it, but it’s a damnable lie.

Then there’s the whole matter of children.  Most of us have grown up in what is, for all intents and purposes, the birth control generation.  Families are now smaller than ever before, because children are chiefly avoided rather than welcomed and received.  Whereas, in the Holy Scriptures, children are understood to be a blessing from the Lord and the recipients of His inheritance of mercy.  So much so that there is this Law, which seems so strange, perhaps, that if a man dies childless, his brother should marry the widow and raise up children for the deceased.  It is because the Lord our God is the Author and Giver of Life in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.

If you do not live in view of His Cross and Resurrection, if you do not live in the presence of God by faith in Christ, then you’re always going to misinterpret, misunderstand, and misuse the things that God has entrusted to you here and now in your life on this earth.

You are to love your husband or wife, to cherish, protect, care for, and serve him or her in faith.  If you are a wife, you are to submit yourself to your husband in the confidence of Christ, the Lord, who has given you to him in love.  And if you are a husband, you are thus to love and serve your wife in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus, in the way that He cares for His Church in peace, with mercy and forgiveness, and has given His own Body and Life to save her from sin and death.

How, then, is your marriage confessing the Gospel of Christ and His Church?  And in what ways does your marriage deny and contradict that Gospel and the hope that is in Christ Jesus?  Be done with blaming and accusing, and forgive.  Be done with selfishness, and sacrifice yourself to serve.  Be done with anger and bitterness.  Exercise gentle compassion and tender affection, not only in the best of times, but also in the worst, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health.  For Christ Himself is with you always, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Likewise, if God has blessed you with children, bring them up in the fear and knowledge of the Lord.  Discipline them, not in anger, but in love.  Teach them the Bible, and bring them to church.

The care and catechesis of your children is a sacred stewardship of your time and energy, and of your own life, every bit as much as your finances and abilities are.  The Lord entrusts them to you, not to advance your personal agenda, but that you should return them to Him in faith and love.

None of this here on earth is forever.  You know that concerning your own life, or at least some of you have become aware and realize that.  As you get older, you begin to feel it more and more in all the bones and muscles of your body.  You know that you are dying.  You’ll not live forever in this present world, which is perishing and will not last, even if it does outlast you and yours.

Marriage is not forever, either.  It is not to end in divorce, but it is permanent only until death.

Those who attain to the Resurrection of the body and the life everlasting are neither married nor given in marriage anymore.  Rather, our faithfully departed Christian spouses, along with all of the faithful departed, whether or not we have known them here, will be our brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus, sons and daughters of one God and Father in Him.  Whereas it is sobering to realize that our loved ones in this body and life, whether spouse, parents, children, or siblings, if they die apart from Christ, outside the fellowship of His Body, they shall be forever separated from us.

In any event, your children will not always be your children.  An illness or accident may strike them down while they are yet in your care, and all your best efforts cannot save them.  Else they will grow up and move away.  Your daughters will take on the names of other men.  Your sons will become the heads of their own families, with their own cares and occupations to concern them.

Those painful, tough transitions are actually a good and necessary thing for your faith and life and salvation in Christ.  They call you to repentance.  They remind you of where your hope and your life are really to be found.  Not in your spouse, nor in your children, but only in your Lord Jesus.

If you are despairing because the Lord has not give you a spouse, or because He has not given you the spouse you would like to have, repent.  Do not give yourself over to hopelessness, which is unbelief.  Trust that, if you do not have a spouse here in this life, you do have your heavenly Bridegroom, who is yours forever.  You are called to live as a member of His Bride, the Church.

If you have desperately wanted to have children, but God has not given you that particular gift and blessing, then look for ways in which you can help and serve your neighbors in caring for their children.  Look for ways in which you can help the household and family of the Church to rear up the children of God in the fear and faith of His Word and Spirit.  And be thankful that you and your life, your body and soul are in the Lord’s hands, and so shall they always be.

Apart from Him, there would be for you only death and damnation.  Those who do not live unto God are dead even while they seem to live.  Walking dead men, that is what they are.

Such is the irony in the Sadducees’ question.  In their denial of the Resurrection, they are as good as dead already, even while they walk about and ask their smart aleck questions.  But Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they are not dead and gone.  Moses, he is not dead and gone.  Joshua and David, and all of those who have gone before us in the Word and faith of God, they all live, as do you.

You live by faith in Christ Jesus.  For He has called you to Himself by the Word of His Gospel.  He has wooed you, courted you, and proposed to you by the preaching of His Word.  He’s gotten down on His knee, given you His solemn pledge, and taken you to be a member of His Holy Bride.  He’s dressed you in the beautiful wedding gown of His own perfect righteousness.

By the washing of the water with His Word and Holy Spirit, He has given you the new birth, so that you are a son of God in Him.  As such, your life has real meaning.  Your body and life have meaning even now, although your life on earth is ending.  Your life in Christ shall never end.

Your poor, decrepit, falling apart body will be raised from the dust of the earth and glorified, like unto Christ’s own glorious Body.  Then He shall be your all in all, and you shall behold Him as He is with your own eyes.  Him you shall see, and not another.  And everything will make sense.

There are days when it doesn’t.  And sometimes it is the Cross itself that makes it seem as though there were no point or purpose to your life.  Don’t you believe it.  You see the point and purpose of your body and life in the Cross of Christ, who gave Himself for you.  And you see that point and purpose manifested for you, and for your family, and for all the world, in His Resurrection from the dead.  As He lives, so do you live by faith in Him, and so it is that God is your God.  For He is the God of the living, and you shall dwell in His House and in His presence forever and ever.

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