26 February 2017

The Glory of God in the Body of Christ the Crucified

The Transfiguration of our Lord follows six days after the first clear revelation of His coming Cross and Passion.  Simon Peter had just given his great confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Then Jesus explained what this would mean, that He must be handed over to suffering and death, and that He would be raised again on the third day.  At that point, Peter rebuked the Lord, insisting that He should by no means suffer and die; and the Lord rebuked Peter in return, for His Cross is according to the will of God.  Not only that, but those who would be disciples of Jesus must deny themselves, take up the Cross, and follow after Him.

Then Jesus went on to say that some of those who were standing there with Him would not taste death until they had seen Him coming in His Kingdom.  And six days later Jesus took three of those men, namely, Peter, James, and John, up on the high mountain, where He was transfigured before them.  And they beheld His Glory, though they still did not yet understand it.

The Transfiguration of our Lord is a confirmation of His coming Cross and Passion, which are the way He comes into His Kingdom.  And as such, His Transfiguration is a visible manifestation of the divine Glory that is otherwise hidden under the Cross in this valley of shadows, sin, and death.

It is thus appropriate that one of those two ancient fathers who appear with Jesus in His Glory on the mountain is the Prophet Elijah.  For he was also summoned, in his own day, to the Mountain of the Lord, to receive a revelation of the true divine Glory, contrary to all the wisdom and reason of his human feelings and experience.  Remember that story?  It was at a point when Elijah felt as though the whole world were against him.  He was suffering for the sake of the Lord’s Word, because of his faithful preaching of that Word.  And for all of that, in utter despair, Elijah finally sat down in disgust under a tree and prayed that he could just give up and die.

In response to that miserable prayer, the Lord took Elijah on a journey to Mt. Sinai, where the Lord had once met with Moses and established His Covenant with Israel.  There, on that holy mountain, the Lord reassured Elijah that he was not alone in his faithfulness and suffering.  There were still 7000 people in Israel who had not joined in the worship of pagan gods.  What is more, the Lord Himself was with His people — including Elijah — only not in the bombastic power and might of earthquakes and hurricanes and raging fires, but rather with His Spirit in the simple speaking of His Word.  His divine power and glory were manifested in such weakness.

So does Elijah witness, once again, the power and glory of God now manifested in the weakness of this Man, Jesus Christ, steadfastly set on His way to the Cross.  For He is the Voice of the Lord, the Word made Flesh.  So listen to Him, and pay close attention to His preaching and teaching.  Though His appearance is deceiving, by His suffering and death He will redeem the world.

This same divine glory and significance of the Christ-who-will-be-crucified is also witnessed and confessed by the Prophet Moses on the mountain with Jesus (and Elijah) this morning.  Just as he once beheld the Glory of God on Mt. Sinai in the Exodus, so does he now behold the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, on His way to die.

You have heard the Old Testament story.  At the foot of the mountain, Moses sealed the Covenant between the Lord and His people by the sacrifice of oxen to the Lord, the blood of which he sprinkled first on the Altar and then on the people.  Then Moses and Joshua, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up the high mountain, where they saw the Lord their God, and they ate and drank in His presence.  Then Moses went further up the mountain, with no one else but Joshua (the Old Testament “Jesus”), and the cloud of the Glory of the Lord covered the mountain.  Six days later, on the seventh day, the Lord called Moses into the midst of that cloud, which was the visible manifestation of God’s gracious presence among His people.

It was in that glorious divine cloud on Mt. Sinai, for the next forty days and nights, that the Lord revealed to Moses the detailed and precise instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle, for the institution of the Old Testament Priesthood, and for the Sacrifices, all of which pointed forward to the coming of the Christ and His Sacrifice for all people as our merciful and great High Priest.

When the Tabernacle was completed — and the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle — the cloud of the Glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle, which He provided as the way and the means of His gracious and abiding presence with and for His people.

It is that same bright cloud which covers the Mountain of Transfiguration this morning, identifying the New Testament Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, as the very Tabernacle of God on earth as it is in heaven.  He is both the Priest and the Sacrifice, and by His Cross, with His own Body and Blood, He becomes the Covenant between the Lord and His people, even to the close of the age.

This fact sheds some light on Peter’s well meant but misguided proposal to build three tabernacles there on the mountain, one for Jesus, and one each for Moses and Elijah.  For it was in the cloud on the mountain that Moses had received the Lord’s instructions for the Old Testament Tabernacle, and again, the same cloud filled the Tabernacle when it was finished.  What is more, the Lord subsequently instituted the Festival of Tabernacles, which was celebrated a week after the Day of Atonement each year, and lasted for a full festive week.

Throughout that week, the people would live in little tabernacles, just as the Lord had chosen to dwell among the people in His Tabernacle in the wilderness.  Even after the people had settled in the promised land, the Festival of Tabernacles was an annual remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt, of the Covenant at Mt. Sinai, and of the wandering of the people in the wilderness.

So, it made a certain kind of sense for Peter to suggest the construction of three tabernacles there on the high mountain.  But he did not understand, yet, that the Tabernacle (and the Temple) and the cloud of God’s Glory were being fulfilled and superceded by the flesh and blood of Jesus!

Peter was still in mid-sentence when the Father clarified the point.  There was no need for any further tabernacles, because here now was the cloud surrounding Jesus.  This Man, Jesus, is the beloved Son of God, with whom the Father is well-pleased.  There is no need for anyone or anything else.  Rather, listen to Him; hear and heed what He says, and believe His Word.

This is the Father’s explanation of the First Commandment: “I Am the Lord your God, and you shall have no other gods before Me.”  What does this mean?  “You shall acknowledge and worship and believe in this Man, Jesus Christ from Nazareth, who is My beloved Son in the flesh, and you shall listen only to Him.”  You have no Lord, nor Father in heaven, nor Holy Spirit, except in this Man, Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, who is to be crucified, dead, and buried.

There is no other God than this only-begotten Son of the Father, who has been made Flesh and tabernacles among us; who has indeed been crucified for us men and our salvation.  For the Lord our God reveals Himself and gives Himself to you in the flesh of Jesus Christ, and God the Father speaks to you by the Word of this Son, who is Himself the incarnate Word of God.

It is in His suffering and death, in His Cross and Crucifixion, that He manifests God’s gracious presence and power to save.  That is His divine Glory, for it is by His Cross and Passion that He forgives sin, and saves sinners, and establishes the New Covenant between God and man.  And it is from His Cross that He gives Himself, His Body and Blood, His forgiveness, life, and salvation, to His people in the Temple of His Body, the Church, in which you also now live by His grace.

Because you are forgiven by and from His Cross, and because your life and salvation are in the flesh of Christ the Crucified, your Christian faith and life are defined and shaped by the Cross of Christ.  So do you carry His Cross and live under His Cross in all of your relationships, and in all of your love and service to your neighbor in Jesus’ Name.  His Cross is your glory as a Christian.

If that seems inside-out and upside-down, consider that the sort of glory you might think you want or need, would bring you to your knees and crush you and destroy you, because you are a sinner who deserves nothing else than temporal and eternal punishment.  But, Christ be praised, that sort of power and glory is not the height of divine Glory.  No, the true Glory of God is chiefly made known in His Self-sacrificing love and mercy toward sinners, in His forgiveness of sins, and in His gracious gifts of divine life and salvation.

The height of divine Glory is found, therefore, precisely in Christ Jesus, the Crucified One, in His sacrificial flesh and blood.  Not at the top of the high mountain, but first of all lifted up and nailed to the Cross, buried in the tomb, in the dust of the earth, and only then resurrected and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father in heaven; all for the sake of redeeming you, a lost and condemned creature, and bringing you with Himself into eternal life.

There is no shortcut to this divine Glory — not for Jesus, nor for His disciples whom He saves.  No, the true divine Glory is found only by way of His Cross — the Cross of Christ the Crucified — which you share by virtue of your Holy Baptism, and the fruits of which you receive in the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood.  But thus do you also share His Resurrection and His Life.

That’s why Peter was wrong for wanting to remain on the mountain, as though to savor the glory of Christ without the Cross.  Just as Peter was quite wrong the week before, when he tried to prevent the Christ, the Son of the Living God, from going to His necessary Cross and Passion.

In contrast to St. Peter’s misunderstanding and misguided zeal, Jesus actually forbids the disciples even to mention His glorious Transfiguration until after His Resurrection from the dead.  Why?  Because the divine Glory of the Transfiguration is accomplished in the Body of Christ Jesus, for you and for all people, by His innocent suffering and death.  He is transfigured by the Cross for your salvation, that you might be conformed to His Image and die and rise with Him in His Glory.

Thus are you called, as a disciple, to see and hear no one but Jesus only: specifically, this Jesus of frail flesh and blood, who goes to the Cross to suffer and die.  It is the Glory of His Cross that you are invited to share.  It is His Word of the Cross that you are commanded to hear and to heed.  It is with the Body and Blood of His Cross that He reaches out to touch you, to raise you up in His Resurrection through the forgiveness of your sins.  And it is the Cross of Christ that you are given to bear and carry from the waters of your Baptism unto the death and resurrection of your body.

It is by this Cross of Christ that your own flesh and blood, your own body and life, are transfigured into the divine image and glorious form of Christ the Crucified.  That image and form are utterly despised and hated by the world — and by your own sinful flesh — because they are the likeness of the Cross and Crucifixion of your Lord.  Yet, they are nevertheless an image and likeness that will finally be revealed in all their beautiful Glory at the last, when the Lord shall raise your lowly body of humiliation from the dust of the earth to be glorious like unto His own glorious Body.  And then you shall be like Him, shining like the Sun in His righteousness and purity forever.

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

24 February 2017

His Works Do Follow After Him

The Lord Jesus has not called you to be lazy.  He has not called you to be idle.  He has called you to rest in Him, and to find peace and comfort in Him, even as you work and do your job.  Learning from Him, and following Him, you bear the Cross in love for your neighbor within your own proper vocation, your own proper office and station in life, to which God Himself has called you.

Being a Christian is not an early retirement or a permanent vacation.  Being a Christian does not involve abandoning your occupations and responsibilities.  It does not relieve you of your duties and obligations in relation to your family, to your job, to your schoolwork or your chores.  You rather do all of these things with a new heart, mind, and spirit, which rest in Christ by faith in His Gospel, while you work and serve and labor with your hands and body in the world.

You know how there are jobs which would normally be routine and easy for you, but, depending on your mood, they may seem especially tedious and burdensome.  Whereas other days a quite challenging and difficult task may be invigorating and joyful, and you may find great satisfaction in working hard and doing it well.  In a similar way, the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not so much in the works they do, but rather in the attitude of heart, mind, and spirit.

A Christian may at times work much harder than someone who does not love the Lord Jesus or know the Father in Christ, and yet the Christian is at peace and finds joy and satisfaction in the gifts of God.   He may give thanks for his blood, sweat, and tears, because he knows where he stands before God, that his life is in Christ Jesus.  Whereas the non-Christian may go about his job half-heartedly, or he may work at it very hard, but, either way, his heart does not rest, and his mind has no peace, because he does not know God rightly; he does not trust the grace of God in Christ.

Again, the Lord has not called you to laziness or idleness, but to rest in Him by faith, and to work in love, to bear the Cross, not as though to save yourself, but rather to serve your neighbor.  As a mother feeds and cares for her children, not to save herself, but for her children’s sake, so do you work to love and serve your neighbor.  And in this way, God gives good gifts to your neighbor.

In the end, none of your works can save you, no matter how many or impressive they may be.  Not by working smarter, and not by working harder.  Your works cannot save you.  Not just because you are too weak, or because you are not trying hard enough, but because the Lord your God has never intended that you (or anyone else) should save yourself by your own works.

What, then, is the point?  Why do you work at all?  Why must you strive and labor and work, and punch a clock, and do your homework, if none of these efforts can save you?  That is the thinking of your sinful flesh, and of your sinful, selfish heart, mind, and spirit, by which you think only of yourself and your own benefit.  With every challenge and opportunity, you calculate the cost, the risk, and the potential “return on your investment,” with no regard for the Lord or your neighbor.

But this is not the point or purpose of your life or your labor.  The point is simply to love, as the Lord your God loves you.  For He has created you in love for life with Himself.  He has created you for love: To be loved, and to love in return, both the Lord and the neighbor He has given you.

You know your Father in heaven and come to Him through Jesus Christ, His Son.  Not by your own ingenuity or cleverness.  Not by your own strength.  Not by any effort or accomplishment of yours.  But by the Love of God, by the grace of His Gospel, His forgiveness of all of your sins.

God is your Father, and He gives you His good gifts, not because you deserve them, but because He loves you for Christ Jesus’ sake.  Not because you are so strong, but even though you are so small and so weak.  Not because you are so grown up and mature, but as you truly are, an infant or toddler, a babe or young child in the presence of the Lord.  He cares for you, feeds you and provides for you, forgives you all your sins, and saves you for eternal life, because He loves you.  And so it is for the sake of His love, in Christ Jesus, that you also work to serve your neighbor.

You do not work to save yourself, because, again, your works cannot save you, and you cannot save yourself.  You are not God, you are His creature.  He has called you into being out of nothing.  Your very existence depends upon His love for you, His utter charity.  There is nothing you can do to master or control Him.  There is nothing you can do even to know Him, to find Him or come to Him, except as He in love makes Himself known to you and gives Himself to you in Christ.

But you are His creature, and as such, the Lord does not despise the good gifts He has given you, not even His temporal gifts of this body and life.  Your intellect and reason, your strength and skill, your talents and abilities of heart, mind, and body are not for nothing.  The Lord your God, who gave them to you, does not despise or disregard them.  Nor should you.  It is only that you are not supposed to use these things to find Him, or to save yourself.  That would not work.  But you are to use the gifts of God to find your neighbor and to serve your neighbor in love.

That is what Christ has done for you.  He has labored in perfect faith toward His God and Father, and in perfect love toward you, His neighbor.  He has nothing to gain for Himself, but He does it for you and your salvation.  He loves you and He works for you because He knows and loves the Father in heaven.  And for that reason, He bears the burden of your sin and death in His own Body to the Cross.  In Him you behold what gentleness, humility, and kindness truly are, and you learn that such grace and mercy are the glory of God.  And they are the glory of His children, as well.

The Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus are His yoke and burden, which He bears for you and for all in faith and love.  But how on earth is that by any means a “light” and “easy” thing?

It is not a light and easy yoke or burden for your mortal body of flesh and blood.  His suffering was painful and real, even unto death, and so also for you and all His disciples, who are called to take up His Cross and follow Him.  But it is a light and easy yoke to bear within your heart, mind, and spirit before God, by faith in His Gospel, when you know and trust His forgiveness of sins, His Resurrection and His Righteousness, and His promise of eternal life with Him in body and soul.

The Lord Jesus bore the Cross and suffered death in the confidence that His Father would raise Him from the dead, vindicate Him, and glorify Him forever at His Right Hand — and that by His Cross and Resurrection He would atone for your sins, reconcile you and all the world to His God and Father, and open the Kingdom of heaven to all who believe and are baptized into Him.  That was the joy that was set before Him, for which His yoke was “easy” and His burden was “light.”  And so also for those who follow Him, who live and love and work and suffer by faith in Him.

Think of the holy martyrs, among whom St. Matthias has been counted, along with most of the Apostles and countless other Christians.  Even the pagans marveled at the way these faithful men, women, and children went bravely to suffering and death.  They forgave those who hurt them.  They were at peace.  They suffered great cruelty against themselves rather than forsake the Lord.

Their peace and rest, their light and easy yoke and burden, was not that which their bodies bore and suffered.  It was the peace in their heart, and the rest that Jesus gave to their souls through the forgiveness of their sins, the gift of free and full salvation by His grace, and the sure and certain hope and promise of the Resurrection in His own crucified and risen Body.

That is your peace and rest also.  For you also are a Christian.  You are baptized into Christ.  You take up the Cross and follow Him as a disciple.  And you are able to labor and work, to hurt, and to suffer, as though it were a light and easy burden, because you are in Christ, and He abides in you with His Spirit.  Thus are you uplifted by His Gospel, and so shall you not die but live in Him.

Are you weary?  Are you burdened?  Are you hard pressed and sorrowful?  Come to Christ and rest in His Peace.  Not by your own reason or strength, but by His Word and Spirit, as He and all His gifts are here poured out for you and given into your hands by the Ministry of His Gospel.

How do you come to Him?  He is already here.  He has ascended on high, to the Right Hand of His Father, not to leave you, but to give good gifts to His Church on earth.  And first among those gifts are the holy Apostles, including St. Matthias.  Men who preached the Gospel.  Men who baptized in the Name of Jesus.  Men who fed His disciples with His own Body and Blood.  And the promise is for you and for your children.  For babies in the womb, and infants at the breast, and toddlers, and teenagers, and for all of the children of God in every age and season of life.

He gives good gifts to His Church.  He gives good gifts to you.  He cares for you.  He cares for His own.  In the same way that you are called and given to take care of your family, to work hard for the sake of love so that others may be served through your efforts, so has Christ given His Church, and your pastors, and your neighbors to love and serve you.  As a mother feeds her child, and as a father cares for his children, so does Christ care for you, and so does His Church also feed you.

See how His Church, His Body, is poured out in love.  And then consider the contrast to be found in the tragic example of Judas.  Called to be a disciple.  Ordained as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But he turned aside from the House that Jesus built, to go to his own place, to take his own life, to be buried in the dirt.  It would have been better for that man if he had never been born.

St. Luke records that his intestines or his bowels gushed out, this one who betrayed the Lord Jesus and handed Him over for cash.  Yet, the same Lord Jesus Christ has handed Himself over in love.  His own bowels or intestines have churned with divine compassion for you and all people, even for His enemies, so that He sacrificed Himself and poured Himself out for the redemption of the world.  With His innocent suffering and death, by His holy and precious blood, He has purchased you, and won you for Himself, and made a place for you with His God and Father in heaven.

That is why, even though you die, yet shall you live.  That is why those who live in the Lord rest from their labors.  So shall it be at the last in their bodies, especially in the resurrection of the dead, but already do they have peace and rest in heart, mind, and spirit, by faith in the Gospel.

You also have that peace and rest.  It is yours both now and forever.  Your body shall rest at last, as your soul already rests in Christ.  And so do we remember and give thanks for St. Matthias and all the faithful departed, who now rest from all their labors.  They are not forgotten, neither by the Lord nor by His Church, for the Holy Spirit testifies that their works do follow after them.  Their works do not precede them or lead them into heaven, but their good works of faith and love do follow after them in Christ.  And so do your works follow after you by faith in Christ Jesus.

Indeed, you are Christ’s workmanship — you are His good work, a new creation by His Word and Holy Spirit — recreated in His Image for such good works as glorify your Father in heaven.  So do you now follow after Him, through death and the grave, into the Resurrection and eternal Life.

You shall be with Him where He is, forever and ever, because He is here for you, even now.  He has come to give you peace and rest with His Body and His Blood, which are given and poured out for your body and your soul, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for the Life everlasting.

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

19 February 2017

Beholding Your God and Father in His Son

Behind the challenging and difficult Words of our Lord throughout His Sermon on the Mount — which expose your sin, your selfishness and lack of love, your impatience and hardness of heart — behind those Words, there is the fact that your Father in heaven loves you and deals with you in the way that He calls you and commands you to love and deal with your neighbors in the world.

Which is to say that holiness and perfection are not means to some other end or purpose; they are the character and content of the divine Life.  For the one true God is Holy and Perfect in Himself, in the eternal Love of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.  He is Holiness and Perfection, for He exists and lives in Himself, not in selfishness or isolation, but in a relationship of mutual love.

The perfection and holiness of this one true God proceeds — from within His inner Triune Being of Love — in His free outward action of love toward those whom He has created by His grace for the sake of giving them life with Himself.  Thus, the perfect holiness of God is manifested in His Self-giving, to the extent of His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross for the salvation of sinners; in His tender mercy and compassion upon you; in His forgiveness of all your sins and His free gift of life; and in His providential care of all creatures, including even those who are at enmity with Him.

He has not only called you to be His child — something that you could not choose or accomplish for yourself — but He has granted you the new birth of Holy Baptism and made of you a new creation in Christ Jesus.  He has named you with His Name and anointed you with His Spirit.  He has graciously adopted you to be His own dear child, and He has become your own dear Father.

So it is that you are a son of God in Christ Jesus, by His grace, through faith in His Gospel.  You are a member of His Body and His Bride; the Lord Jesus Christ is your Husband and your Head.  You are a Temple of God, and His Holy Spirit dwells in you and with you, resting upon you and abiding within you, as He is in and with Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son and the Lord’s Anointed.

Therefore, you are holy, and you shall be perfect, as your Father in heaven is holy and perfect, merciful and just.  Not in lonely isolation, nor self-contained within yourself, but in a relationship of faith and love with the Holy Triune God in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, and so also in the Holy Communion of His Church; in love for all His brothers and sisters, who are the many sons of daughters of your own God and Father; and, again, in love for all your neighbors in the world.

This life and love are your holiness and perfection, which you share with God through faith in Christ.  Not of yourself, yet truly yours by His grace.  It is derivative and always being received from the Lord your God.  It is the life and love for which He created you.  It is what He freely does for you, according to His own divine holiness: In His mercy and compassion upon you.  In His daily forgiveness of all your great and many sins.  And in the gifts of Himself and His Life, which He bestows upon you in body and soul, in Christ Jesus, in His Word and Spirit, flesh and blood.

He who gives Himself to you — whom the Father gives to you from heaven, and the Holy Spirit lays upon your heart and mind, body and soul, through the Gospel — He is your holiness and righteousness, your innocence and blessedness.  All of this perfected for you in Him, in His own Body of flesh and blood, in His Cross and Passion, in His Resurrection from the dead, and in His Ascension to the right hand of the Father in heaven.  And all of this has become yours through Holy Baptism, which is not a private affair but your incorporation into Christ and His Church.

Your holiness and righteousness as a Christian are found and perfected within the fellowship of the Church, within the fellowship of the means of grace, and proceeding from it.  They are found both in the receiving of faith through the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ, and in the living of love with one another in real time, boots on the ground, with your words and tangible actions of charity.

Your holiness and righteousness daily flow from and with the forgiveness of sins, and in this life on earth they are always returning to the forgiveness of sins.  With such forgiveness there is mercy and compassion, and the giving and receiving of life through the feeding and care of the body.

That life of love, which is received and shared and lived within the Body of Christ, is then also extended to the world outside of the Church in patience and kindness, in mercy and compassion, in the forgiving of sins, and in self-sacrificing service.  So does God’s Kingdom come through you, not by way of compromise, but by way of repentance and faith, forgiveness and reconciliation.

To be a child of your God and Father in heaven — to be like Him — is to be holy with His Spirit in His compassion for you and for all people; to be perfect in His mercy and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord; and to be gracious in His steadfast loving-kindness toward you.

What it looks like, therefore, to be and to live as a child of God in Christ, a member of His Body, the Church, in whom the Holy Spirit abides in peace — what it looks like to be holy and perfect, is that you are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  You do not lose your temper; you do not retaliate or seek revenge against those who hurt you or speak ill of you; nor do you harbor bitterness or resentment in your heart and mind against anyone else.  You do not hide or withhold your possessions from those in need, but you gladly do good, even to those who sin against you.

You show no partiality, but you are kind and good and merciful and generous with each and all of your neighbors, although the particulars obviously differ according to each unique situation.

It all comes down to loving your neighbor, doing no harm but all manner of good.  In faith before God, from whom you have all good things by grace, you love your neighbor as Christ loves you.

You serve and care for your neighbor, as you yourself desire and need to be cared for and served.  Not tit for tat, “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” but for Jesus’ sake, in the holiness of God.  You simply do whatever good you can without counting the cost or keeping score, knowing that your real reward is your life in Christ Jesus, which is safely hidden with your Father in heaven.

With what sort of materials, then, are you building on this one Foundation of the Lord’s Church, the house and home of His family?  With gold and silver, with precious stones and fine jewels?  Or with sticks and stubble, straw and hay, which are easily blown away and burned up?

Are you building up the Body of Christ in faith and love?  Or do you tear down and destroy the Temple of God with harsh and hurtful thoughts, words, and deeds?

That which abides and remains forever is Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, and the preaching of His Gospel.  For He Himself is divine and holy Love, and He Himself is the Righteousness of God, Personal and in the Flesh.  So does His love become personal and specific in your faithful loving service to others, within your own station in life, according to the Ten Commandments.

Therefore, live in love and manifest the mercies of God in concrete and specific ways, wherever the Lord has positioned you in life.  Do not horde for yourself what God has graciously given into your possession and stewardship, but share it freely with your poor and needy neighbor.  Do not be aloof and distant from those around you, but be a very present help in trouble.  Be generous, and do not worry or fear that you will end up with nothing, or that you will be deprived of your own needs; for Christ is yours, and you are His, and all good things are yours in Him forever.

And even now, beloved of the Lord, where you have not been holy and righteous; where you have rather been short-tempered and impatient, rude and quarrelsome; where you have caused hurt and harm, and have withheld the help you could have given to others; where you have taken instead of giving; where you have been negligent or indifferent toward your neighbors; and where you have not loved but hated your enemies and have failed to pray and intercede for them — Repent, and live now as a Christian, as a child of God, as a member of Christ’s holy Bride, the Church.

For the Lord your God — who gives life to all people, who causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good, and who gives daily bread, even without your prayer, also to all the wicked — He is holy and righteous; He is perfect in mercy and compassion; and He is indeed your God and Father in Christ Jesus.  He daily and richly forgives you all your sins by His grace.  He raises you up from death to life, day by day, and His mercy upon you is new every morning.  He has cleansed you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in all your going out and coming in, henceforth unto the life everlasting, He washes your dirty feet with His Word of Holy Absolution.

He leaves behind a grain offering and a drink offering — the pure wheat of His Field, the good grapes of His Vineyard — that you might have Bread to eat, and so live; and that you might have Wine to drink, and so celebrate with great joy and gladness.

With these good gifts, much greater still, your Father in heaven gives you the Spiritual Food and Drink of Christ’s own holy Body and His precious Blood:  To nourish and sustain you.  To clothe and cover and consecrate you.  To guard and protect you from all harm and danger, from sin and death and every evil of body and soul.  And to save you from your enemy, the old wicked foe.

You thus belong to the Body of Christ, because Christ feeds you with His Body.  You abide in Him, because He abides in and with you in this Holy Sacrament.  So it is that you are a living stone in the Temple of the living God — and you are holy, as your God and Father in heaven is holy — because the very Son of God, Christ Jesus, dwells in you with His life-giving Holy Spirit.

Take to heart how He loves you, so perfectly and so completely, with His own Body and Life.

Though you have been a stranger to Him and at odds with Him, listen to the way that He welcomes you and greets you as your beloved Brother and your dear Friend, with grace, mercy, and peace.

Consider that He has given Himself for you: His eye for your eye, His teeth for your teeth; His right cheek and His left, His hands and feet and side; His Body of flesh and blood; His soul and Spirit on the Cross, even unto death.

He has not gone one mile or two, but the whole distance for you.

Have no fear, therefore, but rest yourself here in His perfect Peace and in His holy hospitality.

Does He not give you the shirt off His back?  Does He not cover your nakedness and shame with Himself, His honor, and His majesty?  And does He not clothe you with His own righteousness?

He does not destroy you, but He builds you up in His Love, adorning you with that which is far more precious, more lasting, and more lovely than silver, gold, or jewels, even anointing you with the Holy Spirit and beautifying you from head to foot, inside and out, with His own holy Blood.

This grace of God in Jesus Christ — His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, and His free gift of life and salvation — this is His holiness, with which you are now sanctified; His righteousness, in which you are perfected before God, and shall be perfected in the resurrection of your body at the last; and this is His Glory, by which you are glorified in body and soul, both now and forever.

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

13 February 2017

The Good Shepherd Has Gathered Phoebe into His House Forever

In my mind’s eye, I vividly remember and still picture Don & Phoebe as a vibrant, active couple.  They were already in their late 60s when I first met them, but they were so youthful, even then, and well into their retirement years.  I have a particularly strong memory of Phoebe being an active golfer in those days.  She was such a classy and elegant lady, always so gracious and so kind.

Her later years, however, were not so kind and gentle to Phoebe.  In my perception, there was a turning point when she injured herself, some five years ago.  Although her body slowly healed, her mind and memory were never quite the same afterwards.  Things became increasingly difficult for her over the past couple years, in particular.  Frailties and weaknesses.  Confusion and simplicity.  Her body was aging and gradually deteriorating, while her mind was becoming more childlike.

The last several times I visited Phoebe, over at Morning View, she was cradling a baby doll and caring for it, like she was a little girl again, or engaged in other children’s activities and puzzles.

With Don we were given such a beautiful example of a husband caring for his wife, of a Christian loving and serving his neighbor in patience and in peace, even at great personal cost and sacrifice.  But we have also had a good example in Phoebe, as well, and perhaps a more humbling one.

To live by faith, like that of a little child, is to rely on the providence of the Lord, to receive His good gifts, and to be cared for by His mercy and His charity.  It is to live entirely by grace, which is what it means to be a Christian.  And sometimes it is precisely our place and purpose in life to be utterly dependent on others to care for us; to watch and wait upon the Lord in quiet patience.

That can also be the toughest and most challenging task.  It is so hard to be patient, and you really want to know what’s going on, what you should be doing, what’s going to happen, and when.  You want the Lord Jesus to speak plainly.  But, instead, He confronts you with His Cross, which not only crucifies Him, first of all, but it crucifies you, as well, and puts to death all of your plans.

This “theology of the Cross,” as we call it, is the hidden and mysterious revelation of the one true God in the hurt and humility of His Christ, the Crucified One.  It is both painful and comforting.

It is hard to bear and hard to understand.  But as the One who bears all your sins and griefs and sorrows, your frailty, mortality, and death, in His own Body on the Cross, the Lord Himself is the Good Shepherd, the Champion, Protector, and Savior of the weak, the small, and the helpless.

As a Mom, Phoebe took care of her children when they were young, not unlike a shepherd caring for his sheep.  But for awhile now, and especially since this past summer, her children were really at the forefront of those who were taking care of her, and seeing to it that all her needs were met.

Perhaps you’ve seen those billboards and commercials about the reversal of roles between parents and children as they age through the stages of life.  And you know that’s how it goes.

But there never is a role reversal between you and your Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  He is ever and always the One who is caring for you, providing for you, protecting you, and feeding you.

Even when you’re at those points in life when you might be able to kid yourself (for a little while) that you’ve got things in hand and under control, and you suppose that, as an “independent adult,” you’re taking care of yourself, taking care of business, and managing life — even then, it is the Lord who is caring for you in every way, whether you know it and acknowledge it or not.  Truth be told, without Him, without His grace and mercy and forgiveness, you would be utterly lost.

Sometimes His care, protection, and providence require that He seek you out and bring you home from wherever you have wandered and gotten yourself lost and in danger.  Then He calls you to repentance, and He disciplines you in love, that you would return to Him and remain close to Him.

And when you are weak, He is strong for you.  In fact, in the Kingdom of God, in the pastures of the Good Shepherd, ironically, true greatness is found, not in your own strength, but in relying on the strength of Christ by faith, recognizing your frailty, your weakness, and your need for Him.

Thus, again, the excellent example that Phoebe has been to all of us, especially in her final years, and in these past six months, as she has lived by faith alone.  Not by her own works, but solely by the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  Like a little child again.  As a sheep of the Good Shepherd.

Jan and Jim and Tom and Allison and I heard the Word and promises of this Good Shepherd — for Phoebe, and for all of us — when we prayed with her and for her this past Tuesday evening, the night before she fell asleep in the same Lord Jesus and departed from this mortal life on earth.

True to His Word, He cared for her and provided for her, in body and soul, throughout her life on earth, even to the end; and so also has He carried her through the valley of the shadow of death.

He cared for her through Don for all those many years.  He cared for her through her children in these final years of life.  And He cared for her recently through the good folks at Morning View.

What is more, over the years He also provided her with various pastors here at Emmaus, who were her shepherds on earth, who cared for her in Jesus’ Name; who baptized her, forgave her sins, and fed her from the Table of the Lord and from His overflowing Chalice of Salvation.  For she was Jesus’ little lamb, really at every step along the way, at every stage in life, even unto death.

Dr. Luther once commented that even a seven-year-old child knows and understands that the Church is the gathering of the sheep by their Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ; and as their Shepherd, as their Pastor and Bishop of body, soul, and spirit, He leads them and guides them, He guards and protects them from predators, and He feeds and nurtures them in safety and in peace.

So, indeed, did the Savior, Christ Jesus, do for Phoebe.  Not only in her prime and in her heyday, in the spring and summer of her life, but also and especially in these hard last days, weeks, months, and years, in the fall and winter of her journey.

And because He, the Good Shepherd, laid down His life for her and all His sheep, and took it up again by the Spirit of His God and Father, so shall He raise Phoebe, His dear little lamb, from death and the grave, from the dust and ashes; and He shall glorify her with abundant life forever.

The Sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross has atoned for all of His sheep (and all the world), in order to rescue them from the wrath of God, from sin, death, the devil, and hell: to save them, indeed, from all the enemies that would otherwise devour them, not only here in time, but for eternity.

And in His Resurrection from the dead, His own Body has become the true, divine, eternal Temple of God: in heaven and on earth, both now and forever.  His crucified and risen Body is the House of the Lord, in which you live and abide, even now by faith, and in the Resurrection forevermore.  For He is the true Solomon, the true King of Peace, great David’s greater Son; and His Body, the Church, is the Portico by which you enter from this mortal life into the Kingdom of God.

Phoebe’s life in her younger years was active and involved, not only in the world, but in the Lord’s House, His Church on earth.  So was He preparing her for the later years and leading her to them.  As He promised and encouraged in her Confirmation verse from Pastor Kleinhans (Psalm 37:4), she delighted herself in the Lord; she delighted in His Word and the preaching of it.  She and Don were always faithful in their church attendance, and in their support of the Church and Ministry.

And the Lord has given to Phoebe and to Don the desires of their faithful hearts.  He has fed them with His Gospel in Word and Sacrament here at Emmaus.  He has freely and fully forgiven all of their sins.  And He has gathered them to Himself, to dwell with Him in His House forever and ever.

By the Blood of the Lamb — in her Holy Baptism, and in the Chalice of the Holy Communion — Phoebe was cleansed and refreshed within and without, in body and soul; and with the forgiveness of her sins, she was given life and salvation with God in Christ Jesus.  She was clothed in the white garments of His Righteousness, adorned and beautiful as a bride made ready for her husband.

It is true that we look forward to a joyful reunion in the Resurrection with all our loved ones who have departed from this life in the faith and confession of Christ; and certainly it is true that Phoebe and Don are together with God in Christ.  But even more to the point, and more decisively, they and all the baptized are fellow members of the Body and Bride of Christ Jesus, and He is our heavenly Bridegroom, who dresses and adorns His beloved Bride in the Beauty of His Holiness.

So it is that He, in love, has called Phoebe to Himself, justified by His grace, and sanctified by His Holy Spirit.  He has gathered her into His House, where she lacks for nothing and suffers no pain or sadness; for God has wiped away every tear from her eyes, and the Lamb on His Throne is her Shepherd forever.

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

12 February 2017

The Life that You Live Before God by Faith in Christ

It is a matter of life and death, whether you worship the Lord your God or turn away from Him to pursue your own way and to worship the work of your own hands.

To fear, love, and trust in the Holy Triune God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength — to worship the Father in the Spirit and through the Son — that is Life.  That is the true Spiritual life, which is lived before God in the righteousness and purity of faith in Christ; not apart from your body, but in your body by the Holy Spirit through faith in the Word of the Lord.

Apart from such faith, apart from the Word and Spirit of God in Christ, your life in the body is no life at all, but a living death, even now.  And that will not end well.  It will go from bad to worse, unto eternal death in hell.  For that is finally all that remains apart from God.

So the true Spiritual life begins with faith in the heart before God, and then it is lived in love for God and man in both soul and body.  For it is the very nature of faith in the God who is Love, to live in love for both God and the neighbors He has positioned alongside of you.

With your words and actions you love and serve the people around you in the way that Christ Jesus loves and serves you with His Word and Spirit and with His flesh and blood.  As you pray, praise, and give thanks to the Lord your God, so do you also speak with grace, mercy, and forgiveness to your neighbors.  And as you are clothed by the Lord with His Righteousness in Holy Baptism, and fed by the Lord in the Holy Communion, so do you feed and clothe your neighbor in peace.

It is with fear, love, and trust in God that you live before Him in love for others.  You fear the Lord your God, first of all, because He is God and you are not.  And you fear His wrath because you are justly punished for your sins, since He has the authority to command and forbid you, as He does, and yet you have disregarded His Word and disobeyed Him in thought, word, and deed.

Even so, you are to love and trust in Him, also because He is God and you are not, and on account of His gracious Word and promises of the Gospel.  Thus, your fear does not drive you to despair, but rather it drives you to God in Christ, to worship Him in the Spirit and the Truth.

Thus do you fear and love the Lord your God, so that you do not despise the preaching of His Word but gladly hear and learn it.  You rest yourself in the Word that God the Father speaks to you by His Son, and you call upon His Name.  Everything else proceeds from this faith and worship.

You are to fear and love God so that you do not despise your parents, whom God has given you, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

You are to fear and love God so that you do not hurt or harm your neighbor in his body, but that you help, defend, and protect your neighbor in his body and life.

You are to fear and love God so that you are not unfaithful to your spouse, but that you cherish the spouse whom God has given you.  The husband whom your heavenly Bridegroom has given as your head.  The bride whom He has given you to love as He loves His own Body, the Church.

You are to fear and love God so that you do not take but give, and you help your neighbor to keep what he has.  You are to fear and love God so that you speak with the mercies and charity of God as you speak to and about your neighbor, just as you depend upon the mercy and charity of God.

This is your Life, and this is how you are to live.  Not in order to become righteous, as though by your works to justify yourself.  But this is the life that you live because you are righteous before God, by His grace, through faith in Christ your Savior.  Whereas to live apart from God, without such faith and love in Christ, is death and damnation, no matter how busy you may be.

God’s chief concern is not that you be well behaved, although your good behavior is pleasing to Him and is good for you and for your neighbor.  His first concern is that you would have life with Him.  It is for such life that He has created you.  He does not want you to die.  So He calls you to repentance as a parent calls his child away from the cliff, the speeding car, or the deadly poison.

Where you have been angry without cause against your neighbor, and where you have not dealt with your anger righteously but have hardened your heart against your neighbor; and where you have withheld your love from your neighbor because you are angry — Repent, and do better.

Where you have spoken harshly, not with words of grace, but rather with hostility and hatred, with wrath, and with ill intent — Repent, and do better.

Where you have been covetous; where you have been lustful; where you have been greedy and selfish; and where you have nurtured such idolatry by worshiping your flesh — Repent.

Where you have caused harm to holy marriage and to family, whether your own or your neighbor’s — Repent, and do better.  Honor your father and mother.  Love and cherish your spouse.  Care for your children in the grace of God.  And support your neighbor in his calling to care for his family.

Where you have presumed to worship God with your lips and with your body, while turning your heart and mind to other things — Repent.  Do not withdraw your lips and your body, but humble your heart and mind before God.  Bowing your body, bow your heart also.  Confessing with your lips, confess also with your mind.  Praise God and glorify His Name, not only by attending to His Word and Sacrament here within His House, but also by serving your neighbor in the world.

Such repentance is a matter of being and living as a child of God, instead of living as though you were not baptized in His Name; as though you were nothing but a child of that old man, Adam.

Be sure of this: Repentance is not by your own wisdom, reason, strength, or effort.  You cannot fix your heart and mind by applying your heart and mind to the problem, because you are the problem!  You cannot make yourself brand new or give yourself new life, for you are not God but His creature, created to live by faith in Him, and otherwise dead in your trespasses and sins.

It is by the Cross of Christ, and by His Resurrection from the dead, that you are rescued and repent.  It is by the Word of His Cross, and by the Spirit who is poured out from the Cross, that you are put to death and raised to new life.  It is by His Cross that you are born again to a new and living hope.

You cannot repent or manage to make anything better of yourself.  But the Word of God is living and active and powerful.  When you come to church and avail yourself of that preaching, God works in you.  So give attention to His Word and the preaching of it.  And humble yourself under that Word. It really is the height of self-righteousness to suppose that you have already mastered the Word or have no need of it, as though you could make do and rely on your own intellect, knowledge, and savvy experience.  Faith begins and continues with the hearing of the Word of Christ.  It remains only so long as you rely on His Word: Hearing it, confessing it, and praying it.

Lay hold of Christ in His means of grace: In His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, in the ongoing significance of your Baptism, in Confession and Absolution, and in the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood, given and poured out for you and for the many to eat and to drink here at His Altar.  Discipline yourself to live by such faith in His Ministry of the Gospel.

When I speak of discipline, I do not speak of works righteousness.  I do not mean that you can set things right with God.  You cannot.  But God has set things right with you.  Therefore, live in that righteousness of God in Christ, which is already yours by His grace, by His Word and Spirit, by faith in His Gospel.  Discipline yourself by and with His Cross, and live according to His Word.

This is where your life as both a child of God and a sinful child of Adam can be so confusing and so difficult.  On the one hand, you are tempted to hypocrisy, to say and do the right things while your heart remains hard and distant.  But on the other hand, you are tempted not to speak or do anything until you have your heart and mind just right; and, because you cannot make that happen, you never do or say anything.  Do not fall into that trap.  But, rejoicing in the freedom of the Gospel, know that you are free to speak, and free to act, despite the fact that you are still a sinner.

You can do what is good and right.  You can do your duty.  It is not a pretense.  It is not hypocrisy.  It is to spite the devil, the world, and your own mortal flesh, and to live according to the Word of God in spite of all the odds against you.  It is not works righteousness, but a training of your heart and mind, your body, soul, and spirit, in the way of faith and love and righteousness in Christ.

Because the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus are the fulfillment of God’s Law, the perfection of faith and love, and the reconciliation of the world to God — so it is that, when you are crucified, dead, and buried with Christ, by His Word and Holy Spirit, you are also raised with Christ in His Resurrection to live before God in righteousness and purity.

It is accomplished in you by and through and with His forgiveness of your sins.  In this poor life of labor, nothing good happens apart from His forgiveness.  But His forgiveness is plentiful, and it is for you.  His forgiveness is there in the waters of your Baptism, daily washing away all of your sins and your unrighteousness.  And His forgiveness is here for you on the lips of your pastor.

The Lord your God has not divorced you.  He has allowed divorce on earth because of the hardness of man’s heart.  But His heart is not hardened toward you.  He has not sent you away.  Nor has He murdered you.  He has not robbed you of life.  Even when He puts you to death by His preaching of repentance, by His Word of the Cross, it is for the sake of giving you life.

He has not given you a certificate of divorce, but He has given you His sure and certain promises in the Ministry and preaching of His Cross and Resurrection.

Cling to that sure and certain Word of the Gospel, which does not depend on you, but you depend on it.  To cling to His Gospel is to live before God in faith.  And living before God in faith, you live in love for your neighbor, because the Gospel sets you free to love.

Where there is no freedom, there can be no real love.  And where there is fear and punishment, there can be no real love.  But Christ has taken away your punishment, and Christ has dealt with your fears by meeting them head-on and overcoming them.  He thus bestows upon you the glorious freedom of the sons of God, because He raises you up with Himself.  Your sins cannot destroy you in Christ.  The Law cannot accuse you any longer.  You are set free.  You are loved by God in Christ, and you are free to love your neighbor.  You are free to forgive, as you are forgiven.

In loving your neighbor, your life itself becomes a glorious song of praise.  You call on the Name of the Lord and sing to Him with both your mouth and your life.  You worship Him and serve Him rightly by faith.  You offer yourself to Him as a fragrant aroma, as sweet-smelling incense.

This is your life, in both body and soul, in Christ Jesus.  For here in the midst of His Church — His true Jerusalem, the City of the great King — He reigns in love from His Cross, He befriends you through His Gospel, and He judges you righteous with His Holy Absolution.  He feeds you and clothes you and cares for you.  He helps you, and He heals you.  And He gives you life.

By the preaching of His Word, the Holy Spirit lays Christ Himself upon your heart and mind, upon your body and your soul.  And that is how you are made brand new.  For Christ Himself is laid upon you as your righteousness and holiness, your innocence and blessedness, unto faith, and unto life with God in Him.  He who is the Word of God is spoken into your ears, and into your mind, and into your heart.  And so has He become your Prayer, your Confession, and your Song.

He is the Sacrifice of Atonement.  And He is the sacrificial Meal of Fellowship that is given to you, that you might eat and drink with God in peace.  He is also the Sacrifice of Thanksgiving, the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Praise, in whom you worship the Lord your God, your own dear Father in Christ Jesus.  You do so in the Beauty of His Holiness.  Therefore, do not be afraid.  Approach His Altar in the confidence of faith and with great joy and gladness.  And offering yourself unto Him, receive His Life, His grace, and every blessing of body and soul, of heart, mind, and spirit.

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

10 February 2017

The 2016 Grampies

It's a bit later in the New Year (2017) already than I had intended or would have preferred, but I'm still ahead of the Grammys in publishing my list of the 2016 Grampies.  Here follows the compilation of my favorite albums of this past year across a variety of genres.  In fact, I've further diversified my classifications, as compared to previous years, dividing the vast span of country music into two different categories (the first comprising tradition and modern, mainstream and retro country, and the second covering ground from folk to Americana), and creating a niche for music spanning progressive rock and symphonic metal.

Noting that "country" (even with a second category) still covers a broad span of music, I've provided a long list of albums under the main "Country" heading, almost twice as many as in the others.  But the reality is that "Pop," "Rock," "Metal," and "Alternative" have a fair amount of overlap between them, and any number of albums could conceivably be categorized in a variety of these ways.  I've had to make decisions, some of which are inevitably arbitrary and subjective.  But it is my list, after all, and making those hard choices is part of the challenge and part of the fun of doing this each year.

As in the past, my thanks to Spotify and Amazon, to my local public library, to Fireworks and Powerplay rock and metal magazines, to Rolling Stone Country, to the Rate Your Music (rym) and the Album Of The Year (aoty) sites, and to my buddy, Rev. Erich Fickel, with whom I got to see Sturgill Simpson in concert this past year, and whose thoughts on music are encouraging.

To my ears, 2016 was a great year for music of all kinds, and I enjoy the chance to share my favorite discoveries with others.   So, then, without any further ado, here are the 2016 Grampies:

D. Rick’s Album Top 50

1. Theocracy - Ghost Ship (Metal)

2. Sister Hazel - Lighter in the Dark (Pop)

3. Green River Ordinance - Fifteen (Country)

4. The Avett Brothers - True Sadness (Folk/Americana)

5. Andy Black - The Shadow Side (Alternative)

6. Volbeat - Seal the Deal & Let's Boogie (Metal)

7. The Roosevelts - The Greatest Thing You'll Ever Learn (Rock)

8. Parker Millsap - The Very Last Day (Folk/Americana)

9. Lori McKenna - The Bird & the Rifle (Folk/Americana)

10. Rachel Platten - Wildfire (Pop)

11. Brian Fallon - Painkillers (Rock)

12. Dori Freeman - Dori Freeman (Folk/Americana)

13. The Roomsounds - Elm St. (Rock)

14. Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth (Alternative)

15. Brandy Clark - Big Day in a Small Town (Country)

16. Simple Plan - Taking One for the Team (Alternative)

17. Alter Bridge - The Last Hero (Metal)

18. Dream Theater - The Astonishing (Progressive)

19. Nordic Union - Nordic Union (Rock)

20. Brothers Osborne - Pawn Shop (Country)

21. Tremonti - Dust (Guitarist)

22. Miranda Lambert - The Weight of These Wings (Country)

23. Bon Jovi - This House Is Not for Sale (Rock)

24. Panic! at the Disco - Death of a Bachelor (Alternative)

25. Maren Morris - Hero (Country)

26. Rick Springfield - Rocket Science (Pop)

27. Poets of the Fall - Clearview (Alternative)

28. Joe Bonamassa - Blues of Desperation (Guitarist)

29. Treat - Ghost of Graceland (Rock)

30. Wigelius - Tabula Rasa (Rock)

31. Jorn - Heavy Rock Radio (Rock)

32. Margo Price - Midwest Farmer's Daughter (Country)

33. Elton John - Wonderful Crazy Night (Pop)

34. Twin Atlantic - GLA (Alternative)

35. Holy Grail - Times of Pride and Peril (Metal)

36. Serenity - Codex Atlanticus (Progressive)

37. Black Stone Cherry - Kentucky (Rock)

38. Austin Allsup - This Weary Land (Country)

39. The Head and the Heart - Signs of Light (Alternative)

40. Aubrie Sellers - New City Blues (Country)

41. Lindsey Stirling - Brave Enough (Alternative)

42. BJ Barham - Rockingham (Folk/Americana)

43. Keith Urban - Ripcord (Guitarist)

44. Ryan Beaver - Rx (Country)

45. Eliza and The Bear - Eliza and The Bear (Alternative)

46. Metallica - Hardwired...to Self-Destruct (Metal)

47. Dommin - Beautiful Crutch (Alternative)

48. Dare - Sacred Ground (Rock)

49. Sabaton - The Last Stand (Metal)

50. Megadeth - Dystopia (Metal)

Country  (Traditional and Modern, Mainstream and Retro)

1. Green River Ordinance - Fifteen

2. Brandy Clark - Big Day in a Small Town

3. Brothers Osborne - Pawn Shop

4. Miranda Lambert - The Weight of These Wings

5. Maren Morris - Hero

6. Margo Price - Midwest Farmer's Daughter

7. Austin Allsup - This Weary Land

8. Aubrie Sellers - New City Blues

9. Ryan Beaver - Rx

10. Loretta Lynn - Full Circle

11. Dianna Corcoran - In America

12. The Honeycutters - On the Ropes

13. Florida Georgia Line - Dig Your Roots

14. Ward Thomas - Cartwheels

15. Casey Donahew - All Night Party

16. The Warhorses - The Warhorses

17. Thorne Hill - No More Holding Back

18. Jared Deck - Jared Deck

19. Paul Cauthen - My Gospel

20. Frankie Ballard - El Río

21. Cody Johnson - Gotta Be Me

22. Seth James & Jessica Murray - A Million Miles of Love

23. Drake White - Spark

24. Reckless Kelly - Sunset Motel

25. Garth Brooks - Gunslinger

26. Derek Hoke - Southern Moon

27. Randy Rogers Band - Nothing Shines Like Neon

28. Wynonna & The Big Noise - Wynonna & The Big Noise

29. Jamestown Revival - The Education of a Wandering Man

30. Kenny Chesney - Cosmic Hallelujah

31. Cody Jinks - I'm Not the Devil

32. Zane Williams - Bringin' Country Back

33. Levi Parham - These American Blues

34. Phil Vassar - American Soul

35. Whiskey Myers - Mud

36. High Valley - Dear Life

37. Kane Brown - Kane Brown

38. Martina McBride - Reckless

39. Jamie Kent - All American Mutt

40. The Cactus Blossoms - You're Dreaming

41. Shane Owens - Where I'm Comin' From

42. Shannon Labrie - War & Peace

43. The Cadillac Three - Bury Me in My Boots

44. Willie Nelson - For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price

45. The Shires - My Universe

46. Ronnie Dunn - Tattooed Heart

47. Jon Pardi - California Sunrise

48. Mark Chesnutt - Tradition Lives

49. William Michael Morgan - Vinyl

50. Karen Jonas - Country Songs

Country Folk ~ Rustic Americana

1. The Avett Brothers - True Sadness

2. Parker Millsap - The Very Last Day

3. Lori McKenna - The Bird & the Rifle

4. Dori Freeman - Dori Freeman

5. BJ Barham - Rockingham

6. Flatland Cavalry - Humble Folks

7. The Stray Birds - Magic Fire

8. Brent Cobb - Shine on Rainy Day

9. Hayes Carll - Lovers and Leavers

10. Shovels & Rope - Little Seeds

11. Sarah Jarosz - Undercurrent

12. Sara Watkins - Young in All the Wrong Ways

13. Mary Chapin Carpenter - The Things That We Are Made Of

14. Courtney Marie Andrews - Honest Life

15. Aoife O'Donovan - In the Magic Hour

16. John Prine - For Better, or Worse

17. Dylan LeBlanc - Cautionary Tale

18. Darrell Scott - Couchville Sessions

19. Amanda Shires - My Piece of Land

20. Kate Rusby - Life in a Paper Boat

21. Lee DeWyze - Oil & Water

22. case / lang / veirs - case / lang / veirs

23. Jason Eady & Courtney Patton - Something Together

24. Kelsey Waldon - I've Got a Way

25. The Time Jumpers - Kid Sister

26. Robbie Fulks - Upland Stories

27. Mandolin Orange - Blindfaller

28. The Lumineers - Cleopatra

29. Dwight Yoakam - Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars...

30. Amos Lee - Spirit

31. Seth Lakeman - Ballads of the Broken Few

32. Paper Bird - Paper Bird

33. John Paul White - Beulah


1. Sister Hazel - Lighter in the Dark

2. Rachel Platten - Wildfire

3. Rick Springfield - Rocket Science

4. Elton John - Wonderful Crazy Night

5. American Authors - What We Live For

6. Anthony D'Amato - Cold Snap

7. Parachute - Wide Awake

8. Jace Pawlak - Promise

9. Britt Nicole - Britt Nicole

10. Colbie Caillat - The Malibu Sessions

11. Regina Spektor - Remember Us to Life

12. Passenger - Young as the Morning Old as the Sea

13. Jacob Whitesides - Why?

14. Lewis & Leigh - Ghost

15. OneRepublic - Oh My My

16. Sia - This Is Acting

17. Muddy Magnolias - Broken People

18. Dawes - We're All Gonna Die

19. Gavin DeGraw - Something Worth Saving

20. Jimmy Barnes - Soul Searchin'

21. Andrew Leahey & The Homestead - Skyline in Central Time

22. Lake Street Dive - Side Pony

23. Meghan Trainor - Thank You

24. Josh Kelley - New Lane Road

25. KT Tunstall - KIN

26. Lights - Midnight Machines

27. Roxette - Good Karma

28. Tegan and Sara - Love You to Death

29. Sabrina Carpenter - EVOLution

30. Britta Phillips - Luck or Magic

31. The Candles - Matter + Spirit

32. Audrey Spillman - Thornbird

33. BROODS - Conscious

Rock  (Rock ‘n’ Roll, Classic Rock, Retro Radio Rock, Modern Rock)

1. The Roosevelts - The Greatest Thing You'll Ever Learn

2. Brian Fallon - Painkillers

3. The Roomsounds - Elm St.

4. Nordic Union - Nordic Union

5. Bon Jovi - This House Is Not for Sale

6. Treat - Ghost of Graceland

7. Wigelius - Tabula Rasa

8. Jorn - Heavy Rock Radio

9. Black Stone Cherry - Kentucky

10. Dare - Sacred Ground

11. Epic - Like a Phoenix

12. 3 Doors Down - Us and the Night

13. Wolfmother - Victorious

14. Blackfoot - Southern Native

15. Rival Sons - Hollow Bones

16. Letters From the Fire - Worth the Pain

17. The Record Company - Give It Back to You

18. Blackberry Smoke - Like an Arrow

19. The Answer - Solas

20. Kings of Leon - Walls

21. The Black Moods - Medicine

22. Inglorious - Inglorious

23. Tim Montana and The Shrednecks - Tim Montana and the Shrednecks

24. Grand Slam - A New Dawn

25. Rob Moratti - Transcendent

26. Angels or Kings - Go Ask the Moon

27. Glenn Hughes - Resonate

28. Handful of Rain - Three Days to Come Back

29. Mudcrutch - 2

30. Nemesea - Uprise

31. Overland - Contagious

32. First Signal - One Step Over the Line

33. The Radio Sun - Outside Looking In

Progressive Rock ~ Symphonic Metal

1. Dream Theater - The Astonishing

2. Serenity - Codex Atlanticus

3. Avantasia - Ghostlights

4. Epica - The Holographic Principle

5. Avenged Sevenfold - The Stage

6. Delain - Moonbathers

7. Sonata Arctica - The Ninth Hour

8. DGM - The Passage

9. Rhapsody of Fire - Into the Legend

10. Sirenia - Dim Days of Dolor

11. Redemption - The Art of Loss

12. Insomnium - Winter's Gate

13. Opeth - Sorceress

14. Of Mice & Men - Cold World

15. Lacuna Coil - Delirium

Hard Rock & Heavy Metal

1. Theocracy - Ghost Ship

2. Volbeat - Seal the Deal & Let's Boogie

3. Alter Bridge - The Last Hero

4. Holy Grail - Times of Pride and Peril

5. Metallica - Hardwired...to Self-Destruct

6. Sabaton - The Last Stand

7. Megadeth - Dystopia

8. Eden's Curse - Cardinal

9. Amaranthe - Maximalism

10. Amon Amarth - Jomsviking

11. Rage of Angels - The Devils New Tricks

12. Pretty Maids - Kingmaker

13. Trapt - DNA

14. Freedom Call - Master of Light

15. Michael Sweet - One Sided War

16. Evergrey - The Storm Within

17. Stitched Up Heart - Never Alone

18. Striker - Stand in the Fire

19. Tyketto - Reach

20. Gemini Syndrome - Memento Mori

21. Myrath - Legacy

22. Innerwish - InnerWish

23. Last in Line - Heavy Crown

24. Primal Fear - Rulebreaker

25. Serious Black - Mirrorworld

26. HammerFall - Built to Last

27. Sixx:A.M. - Prayers for the Blessed Vol. 2

28. Resurrection Kings - Resurrection Kings

29. In Flames - Battles

30. Shakra - High Noon

31. Obscura - Akróasis

32. Wovenwar - Honor Is Dead

33. Killswitch Engage - Incarnate

Ambiguous Alternatives

1. Andy Black - The Shadow Side

2. Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth

3. Simple Plan - Taking One for the Team

4. Panic! at the Disco - Death of a Bachelor

5. Poets of the Fall - Clearview

6. Twin Atlantic - GLA

7. The Head and the Heart - Signs of Light

8. Lindsey Stirling - Brave Enough

9. Eliza and The Bear - Eliza and The Bear

10. Dommin - Beautiful Crutch

11. The Wild Feathers - Lonely Is a Lifetime

12. James McCartney - The Blackberry Train

13. As Vultures Circle - Human Conditions

14. Skillet - Unleashed

15. Drive-By Truckers - American Band

16. Needtobreathe - Hard Love

17. Switchfoot - Where the Light Shines Through

18. Good Charlotte - Youth Authority

19. Thrice - To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere

20. Nothing But Thieves - Nothing But Thieves

21. Yellowcard - Yellowcard

22. Jimmy Eat World - Integrity Blues

23. The Jayhawks - Paging Mr. Proust

24. Fitz & the Tantrums - Fitz & the Tantrums

25. Weezer - Weezer [White Album]

26. Lacey Sturm - Life Screams

27. Phish - Big Boat

28. Goo Goo Dolls - Boxes

29. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - PersonA

30. Savages - Adore Life

31. Deftones - Gore

32. Taking Back Sunday - Tidal Wave

33. Young Guns - Echoes


1. Tremonti - Dust

2. Joe Bonamassa - Blues of Desperation

3. Keith Urban - Ripcord

4. Wolf Hoffmann - Headbangers Symphony

5. Scotty Bratcher - That Album

6. Zakk Wylde - Book of Shadows II

7. Vince Gill - Down to My Last Bad Habit

8. Tedeschi Trucks Band - Let Me Get By

9. Gary Hoey - Dust & Bones

10. Jeff Beck - Loud Hailer

11. Steffen Schackinger - Fire Dance

12. Rik Emmett & RESolution9 - RES 9

13. Punky Meadows - Fallen Angel

14. Ace Frehley - Origins Vol. 1

15. Bonnie Raitt - Dig in Deep

16. Ana Popovic - Trilogy

17. Steve Wariner - All Over the Map

18. Monte Pittman - Inverted Grasp of Balance

19. Animals as Leaders - The Madness of Many

20. Stefan Berggren - Stranger in a Strangeland

21. Joanne Shaw Taylor - Wild

22. Andy Timmons - Theme From a Perfect World

23. Polyphia - Renaissance

24. Peter Frampton - Acoustic Classics

25. Kee Marcello - Scaling Up

26. Eric Clapton - I Still Do

27. Oz Noy - Who Gives a Funk

28. Eric Johnson - EJ

29. Paul Gilbert - I Can Destroy

30. Yngwie Malmsteen - World on Fire

31. Santana - Santana IV

32. Jack White - Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016

33. Neil Young - Peace Trail

05 February 2017

The Epiphany of Righteousness in Christ

So, what would you say is the least of the Commandments?  Whoever annuls one of the least of these Commandments and teaches others to do the same, he shall be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.  Indeed, he shall not enter the Kingdom of heaven at all.  So, which is the least of these?

Probably not the Commandments against murder,  adultery, or theft.  Even the world knows that such things are grievous wrongs.  And I expect you know that the First Commandment is not the least but the greatest of all the Commandments: You shall have no others gods before the Lord.

But perhaps you would say the Eighth Commandment is one of the least: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  After all, sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.  Except you know that’s ridiculous.  Words can hurt deeply and leave real scars.

If you are caught bearing false witness, that is, testifying falsely under oath, then you are held in contempt of court, and that is no small thing.  In the Old Testament, if you bore false witness, then you would be liable to the same punishment as the person you falsely accused would have been.

And don’t suppose that idle and malicious gossip is any less sinful, no matter how common it may be.  To harm your neighbor’s good name and reputation is to despise the Word of the Lord, which teaches you to defend and protect your neighbor by speaking up on his behalf against detractors.

Well, then, what about coveting?  Granted, it may not be as harmful to your neighbor as murder, adultery, or theft.  However, the envy and jealousy, lust and resentment in your heart do harm your relationships.  And even more than that, St. Paul the Apostle deals a death blow to your coveting when he identifies it with idolatry.  To break the Ninth or Tenth Commandments is to break the First Commandment.  It is to make a false god out of things that are not God.

Okay, what about the Third Commandment?  Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.  Dr. Luther even says that this Commandment doesn’t apply to Christians anymore.  The Sabbath Day was a law given to the Jews, and Christians have no such command to rest from all their labors on the seventh day of the week.  It is in the freedom of the Gospel that we go to church on Sunday to hear the preaching of Christ Jesus and to receive His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.

Even so, the meaning and significance of the Sabbath remain in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, the Third Commandment is the most gracious of all the Commandments, in which God simply tells you to rest from your labors, to rest in Him, to hear His life-giving Word, to receive His glorious and gracious gifts.  It is your sinful heart that perverts this blessed Word of the Lord into a heavy yoke.  You act as though it were a burden and a chore to go to church, and you make light and easy excuses for avoiding it, though it is fundamental to the Christian faith and life, since you cannot live without God’s Word and the preaching of it.  You despise the very thing that saves you.

Then there is the Fourth Commandment: Honor your Father and your Mother.  No commandment is more routinely broken than this one, and not only by the little people.  You are to honor your parents, not only when you are little, but also when they are old and need your help, as they helped you when you were small.  And you are to honor, respect, obey, and serve the other authorities that God has placed over you, because they are His representative and servants.

According to St. Paul, the Fourth Commandment is not the least; it is the first one with a promise, that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.  To honor your father and your mother is to your own advantage in this body and life.

And by the same token, the penalty for dishonoring father and mother in the Old Testament was death by stoning.  So that is how seriously God takes this Commandment, which is not abolished in the least but is fulfilled and affirmed in Christ Jesus.

Well then, we’re left with the Second Commandment: You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God.  Or, as many of you learned it: You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.  That pertains not only to your speaking, but also to your living.  For you bear His Name as a dear child of God, baptized into Christ Jesus; and you are to keep His Name holy by hearing and confessing His Word, and by leading a godly life according to it.  The Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.  But whoever calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.

Whoever annuls even the least of these Commandments shall not enter God’s Kingdom.  But the truth is, there is no “least” Commandment.  They all flow from the first and return to it.  And all of them together require perfect faith and perfect love in all of your thoughts, words, and deeds.

That is the Righteousness of God’s holy Law, which is good and right, and wise and true.  Keeping your nose clean is not good enough.  Dotting your “i’s,” crossing your “t’s,” and minding all your “p’s” and “q’s” doesn’t do it, either.  But it requires fear, love, and trust in God, and love for your neighbor as yourself, in heart and mind, in body, soul, and spirit.

God has called you to be His child, to bear His Name, and to live by faith in His Word.  You are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, an epiphany of the Lord Himself in the flesh.

Yet, even as a Christian, you are still too much of the world, and too much like your fallen father Adam instead of your Father in heaven.  You do not fear the Lord your God; you do not love and trust in Him as you ought; and you do not love and serve your neighbor.

How, then, shall you become salty again?  How shall you live as a child of God after the Image of God in Christ Jesus?  With what light will you brighten the world around you?

Certainly not by removing or rejecting the Law.  You shall not climb up higher by lowering or getting rid of the standards.  They’re not your standards to monkey with, anyway!  It is rather by the perfect fulfillment of the Law that you are justified and saved — by Christ, the Son of God.  For His fulfillment of the Law is your Righteousness in Him.  It is the Gospel of your Salvation.

On the one hand, He fulfills the Law by suffering its judgment and punishment of your sins, of your idolatry and unbelief and lack of love.  For all of this, He is trampled under foot in His death upon the Cross.  He is thrown out of the Garden with Adam, cast into the ground, and buried.  But in His bodily Resurrection from the dead, not only does He remain salty in Himself, but the whole earth and all of creation are seasoned in and with Him, and are preserved unto life everlasting.

As you are baptized into Christ, you are baptized into His Cross and Resurrection.  Thus are you seasoned with Jesus.  You taste and smell like Hm.  You are seasoned with His Righteousness.  You are seasoned with His Holiness.  For not only has He suffered your punishment under the Law, but He has in fact kept the Law perfectly, as only He ever could do.  He has fulfilled and accomplished it completely, in perfect faith and perfect love.  He truly is both Salt and Light.

He is the Salt of the earth.  He is the Light of the world.  As the Son of God by nature from all eternity, but so also in His human flesh and blood.  He is the perfect Man.  He is Man as man ought to be.  Thus, He fulfills and establishes the Righteousness of God as your Brother in the Flesh, so that you also might belong to His Father and His Family by faith in Him.

So it is that His Gospel now shines His Light upon you.  This it the true Light of God in the flesh and blood of Jesus.  It is the Word of His Gospel.  It does not demand, but it forgives.  It does not take, but it gives away freely.  It does not kill, but it gives life.  And it shines upon you from His Holy Cross.  That is the Lampstand in the midst of His Church, which fills His House with Light.

Ironically, this Light of the Cross is hidden in the deepest humility, in the greatest weakness and poverty and shame.  It appears so weak and foolish, so powerless and helpless, because it is the opposite of the world’s wisdom, the world’s power, the world’s strength, and the world’s glory.

It is self-sacrifice instead of self-righteousness.  It is selfless love, instead of selfish greed.  It is giving freely, instead of grabbing and taking.  It is forgiving and saving those who trespass against you, instead of exacting revenge.  It is speaking kindly and graciously, instead of gossiping.

The world has never seen or heard of such love, never before.  But in the Gospel it is heard.  And in the Cross of Christ it is seen.  For in such love Christ has kept all of the Commandments.  Not only in your stead, so that His keeping of the Law is credited to you.  But more than that, He has kept and fulfilled all of the Commandments in love for you, in caring for you as His neighbor.

Not only has He not murdered you, but He has guarded you and kept you in safety in your body and life.  And when you are sick, He heals you.  And when you die, He raises you up.

He has not robbed you, but He has given you the treasures of heaven.  And He has not committed adultery against you, but in faithfulness He has forgiven your adultery of every kind.  And He is constantly wooing you back to Himself.  Unfaithful bride that you have been, He still loves you.

He does not covet.  He does not bear false witness.  He gives generously from a heart of love.  And He bears witness that, for His sake, you are not guilty, because He has given Himself for you.

He honors His Father, even unto death.  And sinless though He was, He submitted to His human parents, to Mary and Joseph, who were mortal sinners like yourself; who were not always right; who did not always understand.  He submitted to them, because He trusted His Father in heaven.  And trusting His God and Father, He called upon His Name.  He cried out to Him in the hope and confidence of faith, even as He went to the Cross, knowing that His Father would raise Him up.

It is in this way that Christ has become your Sabbath Rest.  He has become your Peace, your Hope, your Life, and your Salvation.  For He divides His Bread with the hungry.  He divides His Body with you in His Church.  In Holy Baptism He has brought you out of the cold into the House of God.  He has made His House your home, His Castle your castle, so that you live with Him in the Kingdom of His God and Father.  He has covered your nakedness by clothing you with Himself.

As He has suffered and died in your place upon the Cross, so does His Light break forth and dawn upon you in His Resurrection from the dead, in which His Righteousness goes before Him in the Ministry of the Gospel, in the preaching of forgiveness, in the glory of His Body and His Blood.  By such ways and means of His grace, He glorifies you with His divine Glory.  That is how it is that you are now an epiphany of Christ within your own vocation and stations in life.

As often as you falter, as often as you fail, as often as you fall down flat on your face, He raises you up to stand straight and tall in His own crucified and risen Body.  It is His Righteousness that avails for you before His God and Father in heaven.  And it is likewise in His Righteousness that you prevail and persevere in love for your neighbor, even in spite of yourself.  You are seasoned by the Lord Jesus Christ, and you are preserved by His strength, by His Word and Spirit of the Cross, and by His Resurrection from the dead.  Thus, in Him, you also season and preserve your neighbor by your confession of the Gospel in the way that you speak and the way that you live.

Even in great weakness, the Lord Jesus is at work in you to will and to do according to the good and gracious will of God.  Not because you are so faithful, but He is.  Not because you are sincere and trying so hard, but because He does all things well, and He has accomplished everything for you.  Day by day and week by week, He freely gives you all good things by His grace, by His Gospel, within His Holy Church.  That’s why He wants you to be here.  That He might give you His good gifts and justify you with His Righteousness in body and soul, for now and forever.

Thus are you given the mind of Christ.  Thus do you receive the Spirit of God.  Thus do you know what is good and right and true.  You know both faith and love, because He is faithful, and He is Love.  He catechizes you with His Word and gives Himself to you in peace.  So do you know His grace toward you.  You know the Will of God in His Gospel.  For God raised this Jesus from the dead, who loves you and gave Himself for you.  He is your Righteousness, in whom you enter the Kingdom of heaven and live with the Lord your God forever and ever.

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