22 January 2017

Living in the Light of Christ

He has come to rescue His people Israel; to fulfill His Covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; to bring about and bring to fruition His promises concerning Judah and the House of David.  He truly is the King of the Jews, and He will save His people from their sins, from death and the devil.

But it would be too small a thing for Him to save only those who are Jews according to the flesh.  He is Himself the Seed of Abraham, and He is the Son of David according to the flesh — but so does He also share the faith of Abraham, and He lives according to the faith of His father David.  And as Abraham was called from the land of pagan idolatry on the far side of a distant river, so does Christ Jesus call disciples to Himself from beyond the Jordan, from Galilee of the Gentiles, and from all the nations of the world.  For in Him, the Seed of Abraham, all the nations are blessed.

So, too, as David once gathered loyal followers to himself from the foreign peoples all around him, the Lord Jesus enlarges the nation of Israel by calling all people to Himself.

In Him, in His Body of flesh and blood, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  And by His preaching of repentance unto faith in His forgiveness of sins, strangers and foreigners, enemies and exiles become true citizens of His Kingdom, true sons of His Father.

When His own native Israel rejects Him, His preaching and His preachers, He withdraws to those who were despised, neglected, far off and forlorn.  He is the Light that shines in the darkness, and His Light of the Gospel brings life to those who languished in the valley of the shadow of death.  He breaks the yoke of the oppressor, the burden of the Law with its accusations and judgments.  He breaks down the wall of hostility and reconciles the world to His God and Father.  He grants peace, blessed peace, where there is no peace on earth: To the Middle East.  To the old world, the new world, and the third world.  And also to your heart and mind, to your body and your soul.

In Him, in His Person and work, in His flesh and blood, and in His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins, His Light now shines upon you.  He is the Morning Star who rises upon you with healing in His wings.  His Word is a Lamp to your feet, a Light to your path.  His Gospel scatters the darkness and awakens you to the dawning of the New Day in His Resurrection.

Beloved, follow Him in the Light of that New Day while His Light shines for you in the preaching of His Word, lest He withdraw from you and where you are to go elsewhere and to others.

When you attempt to live and walk by your own sight, according to the wisdom of the world, you actually stumble around in the darkness without a clue.  What the world considers bright is really foolish, and what the world calls “light” is blackest night.  That is the most perverse and deadly curse of sin, that is, the inability to see things as they truly are.  The true Light seems so dark, while the darkness looks so brilliant.  Therefore, do not be deceived, for nothing is as it appears.

One case in point is the heinous sin and deep darkness of abortion, which our nation celebrates as a matter of personal choice and great freedom.  The blindness of this great lie is at times so blatant as to be ludicrous, yet half the nation apparently seems unable to perceive the wrong from right.

If you have had an abortion — or if you have urged someone else to have an abortion — or if you have condoned or defended the legality of abortion — recognize your sin, repent of it, and cling to Christ Jesus who loves you.  His Light not only reveals this sin for what it is, but He also remits and removes it.  You cannot restore the lives that have been taken by the violence of abortion, but the Lord Jesus brings life out of death, even as He causes the Light to shine out of the darkness.

If you have not practiced or supported abortion, praise God.  But do not congratulate yourself.  Repent of your own sins.  Repent of your failure to help wherever and however you are able.

Repent of your failure to love and care for your neighbors, whether the unwed mother God has placed near you, or your own spouse and children.  If you have allowed your children to live, but have not given them your time and attention, your love and affection, Repent.  Or, if you have avoided children for the same selfish and unfaithful reasons that others abort them, Repent.

The Fifth Commandment, “You Shall Not Murder,” not only forbids abortion and all other harm and violence against your neighbor; it also requires you to serve and protect your neighbor’s body and life: To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless and defend the helpless.  It requires you to pay attention to your neighbor, not for the sake of competing or criticizing, but for the sake of loving and helping.  It requires that you consider the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ, for example — whose bodies of flesh and blood, like unto the Lord’s, sit beside you here within His Holy Church — and that you offer more than just sympathy and soft words.

Hear and heed the call of Jesus, who has come to you and called you to Himself, to follow Him.

You have heard how He called Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and John the sons of Zebedee, and how they immediately left their nets, their boats, and their Dad to follow the Lord Jesus.  They left their father and mother, as it were, the way a man does when he takes a wife, that they might cleave to the Church, the Bride of Christ, as faithful husbands in His Name and stead.  The yoke of the Law is removed from their necks and backs, but the yoke of Christ is laid upon them for the Ministry of His Gospel, for the benefit of their neighbors to the close of the age!

In the case of these four men and others after them, they are called not only to discipleship but to the new office and station of apostleship.  No longer fishermen, they are now to be fishers of men.  Not boats and nets, but Word and Sacrament, the preaching of repentance, the catechesis of Christ, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion will be the tools of their new trade.

You also are called to follow Jesus, but where and how?  Some of you men, I hope and pray, will be called to become pastors in the footsteps of the Apostles.  But most of you will not be called to full-time offices in the Church.  Yet, each and every one of you is called to discipleship.

How are you to follow Jesus?  Are you supposed to quit your job and leave your home and family?

If you are still a child or young person, there are certainly many possibilities ahead of you and many free choices available to you.  To be a disciple does not require any one of those choices over all the others.  But discipleship does mean that you will listen to the wisdom, counsel, and advice of your parents, and that you will proceed in the fear, love, and trust of God above all things.

And if you are married, you certainly should know that discipleship does not require but forbids you to abandon your spouse and your family.

Regardless of your circumstances, following Jesus does not mean that you should turn your back on family, friends, and neighbors — which even pagans normally do not do!  Nor does it require that you must give up your honest labor.  Rather, what it does mean is that you are called to serve all of your relationships and all of your stations in life in the Light of the Gospel, in faith and love.

Faith and love will do no harm to the neighbor.  They will never dishonor father or mother.  They will never be unfaithful to husband or wife.  They will never neglect or abuse a son or daughter.

It is true that faith and love may cause division within families, as even within the Church on earth.  Just as faith and love divide you within yourself, between the old Adam and the New Man in you.  There is quite a difference, however, between the division that results on account of the faithful confession of Christ Jesus, and divisions that are caused by pride, selfishness, and party spirit.

To oppose or withdraw from your neighbor out of contempt or competition is sinful and wrong.  But if your neighbor opposes or withdraws from you on account of Christ and your confession of His Name, know that you bear the blessed and holy Cross of Christ.  Take courage, and do not be dismayed, but find your hope and confidence in the promise of His Resurrection from the dead.

The fact is, wherever Christ enters in with the preaching of His Gospel, with the teaching of His Word, with the proclamation of repentance in His Name, and with the promise of His Kingdom, there Satan, all his works, and all his ways will be cast out.  Wherever the New Creation enters in, the old creation is crucified, put to death, and buried.  But of course, your sinful old Adam does not care for that, nor does the old Adam in your neighbors.  Hence, division, but do not despair.

By those whom He has called and sent in His Name, Christ Jesus is still teaching in the synagogues of His Church; He is still proclaiming the Gospel of His Kingdom, even here and now to you.

And with this Word of Christ, the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God shines upon you — in His flesh, and in His forgiveness of your sins.  His preaching of repentance is for your rescue.  He has not come as your enemy, in order to destroy you, but He has come as the great Enemy of sin, death, and the devil, in order to release you from their bondage.  He has come to cast out your demons, to heal your diseases, to remove your iniquities, and to remember your sins no more.

This is the Good News of Christ Jesus that has spread even well beyond Syria — from Galilee to Jerusalem, from Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth.  His Word and Spirit have spread even here, to Emmaus in South Bend, Indiana, and by the Holy Gospel He calls you to follow Him.  That does not mean you have to pack your bags and travel to Palestine or anywhere else on earth, but only that you hear His Word, receive His good gifts, and live in the Light of His Presence in the place where He has stationed you to be, in the place where He has promised to be with you, which is to say, wherever He has established His Church on the Ministry of His Gospel.

Christ is here with you; and He is with you in your home and family, in your job and relationships.  He is with you to forgive your sins and to cover you with His own righteousness.  He is with you to uphold you by His grace, to shelter you in His mercy, to strengthen you with His courage and compassion.  He is with you in your heart and mind with His Word and Spirit, and so do His own flesh and blood fill your body and soul with His Life and Light and Love, His grace and peace.

The crucified and risen Body of Christ is the First Fruits of the New Creation, and as a member of His Body, the Church, you are a New Creation, a new man or woman, in Him.  Even if you may be divided from your family on earth by the faithful confession of Christ Jesus, you actually belong to the household and family of God in Him.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Patriarch Judah and King David are among your fathers in Christ, because you share with them one Lord, one faith, one forgiveness of sins, one God and Father, one Spirit, one Church, one life and salvation.  And by one Holy Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, you belong to one Body in Him.

You and all of your true brothers and sisters in Christ are of the same mind and the same judgment, which is the mind of Christ and His righteousness.  Not by your own reason or strength, but by the Word and Spirit of God, by the faith and confession of His Gospel.

As you have heard, so do you believe, and so also speak.  That is what the Creeds and Prayers and Rites of the Church provide and protect, that is, the faithful confession of Christ and His Gospel.  You speak together with His Word and voice, and so do you also speak to and for one another — you for your neighbor, your neighbor for you.  You give as you receive, and together with the whole Church in heaven and on earth, you live in the Light of Christ, in the Love of God the Father, and in the Communion of the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

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