30 April 2017

The Catechesis of Christ in the Way of His Cross

The truth of the matter — in accordance with all that the Prophets have spoken and all that the holy Apostles have preached and declared to you and to the whole Church — the truth of the matter is that Jesus has redeemed His people, His Israel, His Church.  Indeed, He is the Propitiation, not only for your sins, but for those of the entire world.

True God, begotten of His Father from eternity, He has also become true Man, conceived and born of the Woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He has offered His Body and Life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and has shed His holy and precious Blood to make Atonement for them all.  He has redeemed you, purchased and won you, lost and condemned creature though you were.  Not with perishable things, but with His own Body and Blood, by His innocent suffering and death.

His Cross was not the defeat that it appeared.  The shame and humiliation of His Passion were the accomplishment of His purposes.  By His death, He has conquered death, because He bore the sins of the world in His flesh and put them to death in Himself.  And when God the Father raised this same Jesus from the dead, He thus declared that all of those sins were forgiven and done with.  And as the wages of sin is death, so the forgiveness of sins is life and salvation.

So, you have been redeemed by this Lord Jesus Christ.  You are His own, and His Life is yours, even as He preaches it into your ears.  He puts it into your flesh with His own.  That is the truth.

But that is not what you see, or feel, or experience in this world.  Here you often stand still looking sad, and feeling sad.  Here you are often disappointed, and all your hopes are dashed.  Here you  experience sickness in your own body, and you see it in the lives and bodies of your loved ones.  Here there is suffering within and without.  You suffer because of your sins, and because of your neighbor’s sins.  And you suffer for the sake of Christ and the Name that He has given to you.

You perceive that you still sin in your body and life.  You still do those things that you should not, even when you are trying with all your might to stop.  You fall into sin day after day.  You are hampered by temptations in what you see, in what you think and feel, and in your mortal flesh.

And there is still death.  We proclaim the Resurrection.  We confess the Resurrection.  We believe and hope in the Resurrection.  But there is still death, and we do not yet see the Resurrection here on earth.  Loved ones to the left and to the right suffer and die, even as you and they suffer the loss of parents, spouses, and children.  And every death you see is a reminder that you also will die.

That is what you see, and feel, and experience.  So it seems as though the Resurrection were a lie; that the Gospel were a lie; that the Redemption of your Lord Jesus Christ were a lie, or a hoax.

Your eyes have been closed to the Resurrection.  You hear the news of the empty tomb, but Jesus you do not see.  His Body appears to be missing.  He has vanished from your sight, and your eyes are prevented from seeing Him.  Apart from His Word, you are not able to find Him.

In so many ways, it seems as though Jesus has gone farther, that He has gone ahead without you, leaving you behind.  That your day in the sun is now almost over.  That the night is at hand.  For you and your family.  For your job or your relationships.  Perhaps even for your own Emmaus here.  As though you’ve been left behind and on your own, and Jesus is nowhere to be found.

What fervent prayer have you offered, day and night, with great tears of sorrow, and yet it seems as if no answer were ever going to come?  What hope have you had in Jesus that appears to be forever disappointed?  And, for that matter, what sort of Jesus have you been hoping for?  What sort of Savior do you think He is?  What is it that you have expected?

St. Paul is quite right that your hope shall not be disappointed — when your hope is in Christ the Crucified.  Do not despair in the face of His Cross.  O foolish man!  O foolish woman!  O foolish child!  Do not be so hard of heart and slow to believe the Word that God has spoken to you.

The Cross and suffering are not your defeat.  For the Cross of Christ is the very power of God unto salvation.  It is the victory of your Lord Jesus Christ over sin, death, and the devil.  It is the Glory of God manifested in His Body of flesh and blood.  It was necessary that the Christ suffer in this way, and thereby to enter into His Glory.  And it is through His suffering that you also enter into His Glory.  It is by the Cross that you have been redeemed, and it is by the Cross that you are brought into life with Jesus.  Strange as it seems, it is by Way of the Cross that you share His Resurrection and His Life.  If you suffer and die with Jesus, then you also rise and live with Him.

Live, therefore, in the Word of the Cross, in the hope and promise of the Resurrection.  For in the speaking of this Gospel — and by no other way or means or place or time, but in the speaking of this Gospel — Christ Jesus is at hand.  He draws near.  He travels with you on the road.  And He abides with you forever.  All this precisely under the Cross, in this valley of sorrow.

Take to heart the example of those first two disciples of Emmaus, and follow in their footsteps.  Though they really did not understand the things that had happened in those days, and they were so sad and slow of heart and foolish, nevertheless, they did exactly the right thing in traveling together and speaking to each other about Jesus: His death, and the news of His Resurrection.

They were speaking of Jesus.  And it was in their speaking of Him that Jesus Himself was right there with them.  That is how you also are given to proceed on the road that God lays before you.

Talk to your neighbor about Jesus.  And ask your neighbor to speak of Jesus to you.  So, too, be where His disciples are gathered by and for the Word of Christ.  For where His Word is spoken, there He is.  And He is here.  He is with you, with His Gospel, with His Life and salvation for you.

Hear and confess His Word against your despair.  Falling into despair is a burdensome thing.  It will crush you.  But it is also sinful.  Don’t wallow in it.  Don’t give yourself over to it.  Don’t listen to the lying voices in your heart and mind, but speak of Christ for yourself and for others.  Rehearse His story, His Word and promise, and don’t rely on yourself but give ear to the Gospel.

Seek the Lord where He may be found in this Day of Salvation.  Has He not here taught you that He is with you on the way in the Holy Scriptures and in the Breaking of the Bread at His Table?  These means of grace are the only real remedy for your melancholy, grief, and sorrow.

But on that note, why does He act as though He’s going to go farther?  It sounds like a trick, or a deception.  Is He teasing them?  Is He toying with them?  And is He playing games with you when He acts as though He’s going to go farther and leave you behind to deal with life on your own?

Well, no, Jesus is not teasing you; He does not treat you in that way.  He does not toy with you.  He loves you, and He cares for you.  But He would teach you, and He would train you in the way that you should go.  And to that end, He does not immediately place into your hands everything that you could possibly want or desire, nor even everything that you need.  He allows you to go hungry for a time, so that He may feed you in due season, and you might learn to know and trust that you do not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

He acts as though He is going farther, because He would prompt you and train you to pray.  To call on Him and ask Him to stay.  To take Him not for granted, but actively to love and trust in Him.

Pray, then, as He has taught you to pray, with boldness and confidence.  Pray with the words that He has taught you and placed upon your lips.  Do not trust your experience, your senses, your own wisdom, knowledge, or intelligence.  All of those things will deceive you and mislead you.  Hear only the Word of Christ, and trust that Word, no matter what you see, and no matter how Jesus may seem to be acting at any given moment.  His Word of the Gospel has faithfully revealed that His desire is to stay with you.  Pray for that.  And know that He hears and answers your prayer in love.

Those first two disciples were exercising good hospitality by inviting Jesus to stay with them.  The people of that time and in that culture understood the importance of that practice better than we tend to in our own day.  But I suspect they also hungered for more of that Word which Jesus had been preaching to them.  For He spoke words that cut them to the quick, to begin with, but which had also begun to heal them of their doubts and fear and sadness, of their foolish unbelief and hardness of heart.  By His Word, He had begun to give them real life in the face of death, even before they knew who this was who was talking to them, who spoke as one having authority.

By inviting Him into their home, they were not only extending hospitality and love to a neighbor, but they were asking Him to keep on preaching the Gospel.  And of course He did.

You also, then, keep praying for that grace of the Gospel.  Pray that Jesus would stay with you and keep preaching His Word of the Gospel to you by those whom He has called and sent in His Name and stead.  Pray not in doubt and fear, but in faith, in hope, and in love.  Despite appearances to the contrary, the Lord Jesus has come precisely for this purpose, to abide with you forever, that you would abide in and with Him, in the courts of the Lord’s House, in His Holy of Holies.

His deepest desire is to care for you and serve you with His gifts.  Pray for Him to do that, and know that, even before you pray, He is already answering; and while you are yet speaking, He is already at hand.  He is already working to save you from your sin and death in body and soul.

From our perception we have invited Him to come and be our Guest.  As many of us often pray at our dinner tables, so do we pray together as a congregation, “Come, Lord Jesus!”  We invite Him into this House that we and our forefathers have built and furnished.  And yet, what do we find?  He is here at the Table, not as our Guest, but as our Host, and we are His guests.  You are His guest at His Table in His House.  For He has come into this house and has made it His own.

So you find yourself here at His Table, and He is your gracious Host, a divine Waiter, serving you the finest of Foods, the richest of Meats, and the best of Wines.  To be sure, He is not only your Host and your Waiter, but He is the Main Course, the Meal Itself.  For He is the very Paschal Lamb, who was sacrificed for you, who feeds you with Himself as your Meat and Drink indeed.

This Table of the Lord is where Jesus is found.  Especially in Luke’s Gospel, everyone is looking for Jesus, wanting to see Jesus.  Where is His Body?  That’s what they all want to know.  They find the empty tomb and hear the news, but Him they do not see.  They don’t know where His Body is.

You know the answer.  He’s here.  His Body is here.  It’s in the Breaking of the Bread.  You know it and perceive it by faith in His Word, not by sight.  But it is no less true.  It is no less tangibly real.  Jesus is with you in this way, in this place, with His Body and His Blood in the Sacrament.

His Word — which alone abides forever — His Word declares to you the truth.  And His Word makes it so.  What He speaks, He does by His speaking.  What He speaks, He gives to you by His speaking.  By His Word and Spirit He opens your ears to hear.  And He opens your eyes of faith to see.  He opens your heart to believe, and your mind to comprehend the Scriptures.  And He opens up your mouth to be fed, to be quenched, to eat and to drink, and so also then to confess.

This Blood that He pours out for you has redeemed you.  This Body with which He feeds you has conquered death and the grave.  This Body and Blood have obtained forgiveness for you, which is now given to you in and with this Sacrament.  Eat and drink, therefore.  And know that, as Christ Jesus lives, so do you also live.  By these Fruits of His Cross, you enter with Him into His Glory.

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

24 April 2017

The One Who Believes and Is Baptized

St. Mark was an Evangelist, in the first place, because he was a preacher of the Gospel.  He is said to have gone to Alexandria and preached the Gospel there.  The Church identifies the Apostles and Evangelists with particular places, because the Gospel and the Church are historically grounded and located in real space and time.  Christ has sent His preachers of the Gospel into all the earth, into the whole world, to make disciples of all nations, and yes, in fact, to preach the Gospel to all of creation.  For all of creation is made new in the Resurrection of Christ, in His flesh and blood.

St. Mark is an Evangelist because he was such a preacher.  But he is also one of those four holy Evangelists by whose hand the Lord has given us the written Gospel of Jesus, a record of our Lord’s words and actions, of all that Jesus began to do and teach.  It is not only an historical record, but a theological treatise, and really nothing less than the preaching of Jesus, in which He is actively present, breathing His Holy Spirit upon His Church.  These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you have life in Him.

St. Mark begins his record of the Holy Gospel — the Gospel of Jesus Christ — with the ministry of St. John the Baptist.  He came in the wilderness preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, because the Kingdom of God was at hand in the Person of Christ Jesus.

Then Jesus came and submitted Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And after He was driven out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for forty days, He also began to preach, “Repent, and believe the Gospel, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Repent, therefore, each one of you.  Believe the Gospel, and be baptized.  This Word is for you and for your children.  It continues from the Cross and Resurrection to the close of the age.

If you have not been baptized, submit yourself to Baptism.  Be put to death and raised by the washing of water with the Word.  And if you have been baptized, then live as a Christian.  Do not forget your Baptism, but daily wash yourself in it by repentance, by trusting the Word of Christ, by receiving His means of grace.  Be put to death each day, and rise again with Christ each day.  Repent, and believe the Gospel.  For he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.

Trust the Lord your God.  Look to Him who is your Father, who has called you His own dearly beloved and well pleasing son.  Look to Him who promises to give you all good things in Christ, and pray as He has taught you.  Do not doubt but firmly believe that your prayer is heard and answered with a resounding “Yes and Amen!” in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

And that you may believe and pray in this way, hear and heed the Word of God.  Rejoice to hear His Word and the preaching of it, the preaching of the Gospel, as St. Mark wrote by inspiration, and as your pastors to this day preach into your ears, into your heart, and into your body and life.

This Word is true.  It is Spirit, and it is Life.  Do not doubt it.  Be not unbelieving but believing.  For he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.  But he who disbelieves will be condemned.

The Lord will give a crown of righteousness to all who have loved His appearing.  He grants His salvation to those who believe His Word and promises.  He gives the Kingdom of God to all who repent, as He gives that special authority to His Church, such as we heard yesterday, to forgive the sins of those who repent, but to retain the sins of those who do not repent.

But what does this mean?  For all that Jesus has done, does it still come down to you?  Must you figure out how to repent, and how to believe, and how to live by faith, or else it is all for naught?

Consider the example of those eleven disciples.  They had already heard the testimony of Mary Magdalene and the other women.  They had already heard the testimony of the two disciples who were on the Road to Emmaus and saw the risen Lord Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread.  But they refused to believe the testimony of those witnesses, and Jesus rebuked them for their hardness of heart, just as He calls you to repent above all for your unbelief and hardness of heart.

But your Baptism does not rest upon your faith.  The Lord Jesus does not stand upon your love.  And the Kingdom of God does not depend on your repentance.  Your faith rather stands on Christ, as it springs from the waters of His Baptism and relies upon His Gospel.  And it is because the Kingdom of God first comes to you, that you are called to repent.  Not only to sorrow for your sins and turn away from them, but to find shelter in this One who has come in the Name of the Lord.

He has come in the flesh as true Man.  He has borne your sins and suffered your death.  And He has done it all — He has lived and died for you — by faith in His God and Father.  This Lord Jesus Christ has believed.  This Lord Jesus Christ has been baptized, even unto death.  And this Lord Jesus Christ has been saved from out of death and the grave through the Glory of the Father.

Do not ever look for your salvation in yourself, not even in your own faith.  You cannot choose to believe.  You cannot will it.  You cannot decide to do such a thing.  For sin and death reign in your flesh until the Holy Spirit lays Christ upon your heart through the forgiveness of your sins.

It is the work of Christ that is credited to you as righteousness.  It is the work of Christ that is given to you in the preaching and ministry of His Gospel.  It is Christ who speaks to you through those whom He has called and sent in His Name.  He forgives all your sins and grants you His Peace.

This, then, is the work of Christ, which He has done, and which He works in you.  When Christ is preached to you as the One who believed and was baptized, who was crucified and raised, this work of Christ is worked in you.  So that you are called to faith through the narrow passage of the Cross.  And you are born again into newness of life.  You are called out of darkness into His glorious Light.  Where once there was nothing but doubt and fear and sadness, now there is joyful confidence in the One who was raised from the dead.  For He has come to take up residence in you — through your ears and through your mouth, into your heart and mind, into your body and life.

He opens the Scriptures to you.  Not that you should know the rules better and try harder to keep them, but that you should know them as fulfilled in Jesus for you.  As He has died, you also die with Him.  As He is raised, you also are raised with Him, to live with Him, now and forever.

Be encouraged in this life by the sort of men whom Jesus calls and sends.  Men like Simon Peter, who denied his Lord in fear, and yet he was restored and sent as the prince of the Apostles.  He preached boldly on the Feast of Pentecost, and he kept on preaching until he was martyred as a testimony to his crucified Lord Jesus Christ.  Men like Thomas, who doubted to begin with, but who was sent — not in doubt, but in confidence — to preach boldly until he also was put to death.  And men like Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of the Church, the hater of Jesus, who was called to become His great champion to the Gentiles.  He preached the Gospel even to the ends of the earth in his day, until he too was martyred for the Name of Christ Jesus.

And then there’s Mark.  Many believe that he was that rich young man who came to Jesus, asking, “Good Teacher, what must I do to be saved?”  When Jesus told him, “Love your neighbor; keep the Commandments,” he replied, “Oh, I’ve already done that!  But now what else?  There must be something greater, more noble and courageous, that a wealthy young man like me can do.”

Okay, then.  Jesus says, “Go ahead and give up your wealth.  Get rid of it all.  Give it to the poor.  Feed the hungry.  Take care of the widows and orphans in their distress.  And then, as for you, come, follow Me.  To Jerusalem.  To the Cross.  To suffering and death.”

At that point, the young man (Mark?) went away sorrowful, because he had many possessions.  He could not let go of those gods.  His belief in his stuff was too strong, his belief in Christ Jesus too weak.  Yet, Jesus loved him and looked on him in compassion, and He did not forget him.

Flash forward to the events of these past few weeks.  It is St. Mark who records in his Holy Gospel that young man who was there in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Remember?  There he was, wrapped in a linen sheet, watching, and wondering what will happen.  Suddenly he’s caught up in the fracas, and the soldiers grab him, but he slips out of his sheet like a Roman toga, and off he runs into the night, bare naked.  And whether he was that same rich young man or not, he’s been stripped down to nothing at that point.  And he has followed Jesus to His Passion.  But that is not the end.

There is finally that “young man,” as St. Mark describes, who sits in the open, empty tomb, clothed in white.  A young man, not naked.  A young man, not relying on himself or his wealth or his good works, but a young man who preaches Jesus.  “He is not here.  He has risen from the dead, just as He said.  Go and tell His disciples and Peter, He will meet you, and He will tell you what to do.”  We know that young man was an angel of the Lord, but this is also the preaching of St. Mark, who was himself crucified and raised with Christ Jesus, and clothed in His righteousness and holiness.

Such are the men, fallible and flawed, weary, weak, and wounded, whom your crucified Savior raises up in His strength and sends in the way of His Cross to the glory of His Name.  They have their doubts, they have their fears.  They suffer hurt and pain and ridicule and persecution.  They are even put to death, despised and rejected by men, though they are precious to God in Christ.

It is through such weakness, by and with the Cross, that the Gospel is preached to you.  It is the power of God unto salvation.  It is the preaching of repentance, which puts you to death, and destroys your self-confidence, and robs you of any claim to righteousness or merit or good works.  It is a word that wounds you in order to heal you, and kills you in order to make you alive, because it is the Word of Christ the Crucified, who is also risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever.

This is the Word that is preached to you.  And with this Word of Christ there are signs, which you cannot recognize by your eyes, but by the faith that God works in your heart you know what is going on here.  By the waters of your Baptism, and by the forgiveness of your sins, all of your demons are cast out.  All of your darkness is enlightened.  All of your dirt is washed away.

When Jesus lays His hand on your head, and His servant speaks with that new tongue of the Gospel, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name and stead of Christ,” you know and believe that you are thereby healed.  Your body is made ready for the resurrection on the last day.  You shall not perish but have everlasting life.  You shall not die but live.

The deadly serpent’s sting has been undone.  That old dragon, Satan, cannot harm you.  He can still try and bite you.  But it doesn’t stick.  The sting of death is removed.  The sting of sin is gone.

Nor is there any deadly poison in that overflowing Chalice which the Lord Jesus sets before you on His Table.  It is rather His Blood of the New Testament, the Blood of Christ Himself, which He pours out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

When you have doubts, do not be afraid, and do not run away from God, but listen to His preaching of the Gospel.  By this Word He keeps on loving you.  He keeps on forgiving you.  He keeps on coming to you.  So does faith come by hearing, and hearing by this Word of Christ.  And as you believe, so it is done.  In fact, before you have called, God answers.  And while you are yet speaking, already He is acting to save you — through men like Mark, pastors He has never failed to provide for His Church on earth.  So are you and all the sheep of the Good Shepherd nurtured on the green pastures of His Gospel, refreshed by the living waters of His Baptism, and fed at His Table in His House, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of body and soul

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

22 April 2017

Faith and Life in the Gospel of the Resurrection

Your Savior, Christ Jesus, has risen from the dead.  The One who bore your sins in His own Body on the Cross, who was crucified for your transgressions and buried in the dust of the earth, He has been raised for your justification.  As He is alive and lives forever, so shall you not die but live.  You are baptized into His death; believe also that you share His Resurrection and His Life.

Throughout this first week of Easter, again and again you have heard the testimony of those who saw Him crucified and risen.  Dear Mary Magdalene has spoken, declaring what she saw and heard when she went to the tomb that Sunday morning.  Likewise, those first disciples of Emmaus, who were catechized by Jesus on the way, and who recognized Him in the Breaking of the Bread.

The Holy Apostles, St. Peter and St. John, in the Name of Jesus and at His divine command, have testified to His Cross and Resurrection.  Even the angels and archangels and all the host of heaven have declared that the Lamb who was slain is living, that He reigns forever, and that He is worthy of all blessing, honor, glory, and praise on account of His great salvation.

Therefore, beloved of the Lord, disciple of Jesus, do not weep and mourn as though there were no hope.  And do not harden your heart by refusing to believe what you have heard concerning Him.

The Cross and Resurrection of the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, have made all the difference in the world, both for you and for your neighbor and for all of creation.  How, then, shall you demonstrate that difference, the redemption of the Lord your God, in your life and conversation?

His Resurrection has set you free to be patient and generous with those who frustrate you.  To exercise compassion and charity for those who need you.  To forgive those who sin against you.

If you are a child, confess the Resurrection by honoring your parents, by serving and obeying them, by loving and cherishing them to the glory of God in Christ Jesus.  And if you are a parent, care for your children, and discipline them, in the peace and hope of His Resurrection from the dead.

As the Lord was patient with those first disciples of Emmaus; as He was all mercy and compassion for Mary Magdalene; and as He dealt with His Apostles, with Peter and Thomas and Saul of Tarsus — so does He now also deal with you in love.  Believe it, and live, and so love one another.

His Words of love to you are not empty promises.  His Holy Baptism is not powerless.  He has not died and risen for nothing or in vain.  And He has not come to condemn you for your sins, but to save you from death and the devil, to call you to repentance and to faith, and to give you life with Himself, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever, by His forgiveness of all your sins.

Indeed, your life and your salvation are already achieved and accomplished; for they are whole and complete in the Body of Christ.  Here, then, He meets you at His Table to lay that life and salvation upon your heart, to press it into your hand, and even to feed you with it, that is, with Himself.

Seven times, or seventy, or seventy times seven, with grace, mercy, and peace, He lays His hand upon you, and He removes all of your doubts and fears with His Peace.  He forgives you all of your many sins.  He casts out all of your demons.  He heals all of your diseases in both body and soul — if not in your body here on earth, then hereafter in the resurrection of your body at the last.

Be sure of this: There is no poison in the Cup that Jesus gives you, but free and full salvation for you.  As He lives, and death no longer has mastery over Him, so shall you not die but live forever.

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

19 April 2017

His Resurrection and Your Life

This is now the third time, and Simon Peter still does not know the Man.  The last thing he has said in this Holy Gospel, prior to this fishing expedition, is that he was not with Jesus, and that he is certainly not one of that Man’s disciples.  It seems that he was right on that count, because he’s back to where he was before the Lord Jesus ever called him to follow.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with going fishing, in itself, whether for the fun of it or for your livelihood.  The same goes for you, as well, whatever your own pastimes and occupations may be.  Christ has died, and Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.  But here in the meantime you have your life in the world, a job to do, a family to feed, or at least yourself to look after, and all the other good gifts that God entrusts to your stewardship.  Simon Peter likewise had a household to provide for, a wife and a mother-in-law, and fishing was something he knew and understood.

It was Jesus that he did not know or understand.  Not yet.  Therein lies the problem.  It’s not that he doubted or denied the Resurrection, not after the first two appearances.  But there is still the unresolved fact that he denied the Lord Jesus Himself in His Passion.  So at this point, everything is pretty much up in the air for Simon Peter, who really doesn’t know what do with himself.

Perhaps it’s not so different for you, from one Sunday morning to the next, as you go about the days of your week.  Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  That’s good news and a great answer to all of your needs.  But maybe it doesn’t seem to answer your most immediate questions and concerns.  What are you supposed to do with yourself?  What difference does the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus make in your daily dealings?  Or does it really matter in this body and life?

Of course the answers to these questions are going to be different for you than they were for Simon Peter.  You’re not one of the Twelve Apostles, and most of you will never be a Minister of the Gospel, a pastor, or even a full-time church worker.  We may certainly hope and pray that some of you young men will grow up to become pastors someday, but what about your life right now?  And for any and all of you, no matter what your future holds, how should you approach and think about your chores and duties, your job, and your responsibilities here and now?  It can feel like a very long way between Good Friday and Easter and your desk or the diapers you have to change.

Your day-to-day life can seem very worldly and mundane, but it’s not as though you can simply step out of the world to serve some supposedly “higher” or “more spiritual” sort of calling.  Nor are you prone to attempt it, even if you could, when you think back on your missteps in the past, your mistakes and major mess-ups.  Who are you to suppose that you could ever live a holy life?  You’ve got your hands full, just trying to manage your days, juggle your obligations, and get by.

It stings and pricks your conscience, doesn’t it, when you are confronted with even little reminders of your checkered past?  Like that little charcoal fire, laid there at the feet of Jesus on the beach, recalling the fire that set the scene of Simon Peter’s adamant denials.  Ouch!  That one cuts to the quick and leaves a mark.  But lesson learned, right?  Or maybe not, yet.

It’s not that you must now “try harder” and “do better” next time.  It is rather that you need to learn where, and when, and how to follow Jesus.  That you learn to know Him, as He truly is, and that you be with Him where He is.  Not by heroic bravado or extraordinary efforts to prove yourself, but by the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of this crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.

None of the disciples knew Him, and neither do you know Him, except by His Voice, and by the good gifts that He gives you with His Word.  You learn to recognize Jesus, your Good Shepherd, in His love for you, and thus do you know and believe and confess that He is the Lord.

It is when you have been taught to know Him in this way that you truly know yourself, and that you know your place in the world, and that you know what to do with yourself and your life.

The Lord Jesus calls you to Himself, to eat and drink what He provides.  But He does not call you out of the world in order to reach Him.  The little boat of His Church, even a very little boat like Emmaus, brings you safely to Him; and you are cleansed in the same waters that uphold the whole Church as you come to His Meal.  As the Lord has already bathed you in those waters, in your Holy Baptism, you need not throw yourself into the sea, as though to drown your grief and sorrow, or as though to cleanse your hands and head of all your guilt and shame.  No, the Word of Jesus washes you daily with His free and full forgiveness, while His Baptism remains and avails for you, no matter how many times you have fallen short, sunk up to your neck, and even gone under.

Where Jesus is concerned, you are not called to offer Him your works or sacrifices of propitiation.  He simply calls you to Himself, to receive what He gives, to eat and drink from His hand, to find in Him your life and health and strength, and so to live by faith in Him.

He does also call you to work, as He commands you to love and serve your neighbor.  But your labors of love are not for the Lord’s benefit, as though He needed anything from you; nor are they meant for your atonement and reconciliation with God.  Your works are for your neighbor.

The Lord does not need the fish that He enables you to catch and asks you to bring, but these are the men, women, and children whom He calls and brings to Himself through you and your nets.

Your nets need not be large and strong.  Simply cast them at His Word on the right side of your little boat, and see how He fills them, and yet they are not torn apart.  Your nets need not be those of the apostolic ministry and the pastoral office — nor should you take those nets to yourself apart from the Lord’s Call — but work with the nets of your own office and stations in life.

If you are a mother, cast your net for your children.  If you are a husband, cast your net for your wife.  If you are a shopkeeper, cast your net for your customers.  And if you are a fisherman, cast your net for fish, and feed your family and your neighbors with the catch your Lord provides.

Your life is holy, even as you live and work in this world with all of its mundane obligations, because you are holy by the washing of the water with the Word of Christ.

You are called to Christ Jesus, to be fed by Him, to live by His grace, and to rest in His peace.  But you are not called to laziness and negligence in respect to your neighbor and your place on earth.  Here you are called to work with the strength that God provides, to serve faithfully and well, and to care for others in the hope and confidence of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.

You are not expected to give more than you have received.  Nor could you ever do so.  For what do you have that you have not received?  But what, then, have you received?  And what is it for?

The Lord would have you enjoy His gracious gifts and delight in them, because He loves you, but He would also have you put them to good purpose and use them in love for your neighbor.  Thus do your time, treasures, and talents become alms — that is, works of mercy and gifts of charity — for the widows and orphans, for the lame, the poor, and the blind, and of course for your own spouse and children, for your brothers and sisters, and for your fellow Christians.

What, then, do you have in your hand?  And what is in your heart?  When there is faith and love there, then whatever is in your hand will be extended to the neighbor God has laid at your gate.  Is it silver and gold?  Is it medical knowledge and skill?  Or food and clothing?  Or a listening ear?  Or carpentry, plumbing, and electrical know-how?

The holy Apostles received from the Lord what they have also delivered to the Church in His Name and holy remembrance, that is, the Ministry of His Gospel; His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name; His Holy Baptism; the Bread of Life, which is His Body given for you; and His Cup of Salvation, which is the New Testament in His Blood, poured out for you.  From generation to generation, this sacred “Tradition” of the Gospel — this Holy Ministry of the Word and Sacraments of Christ — has been handed over, as also now from your pastors to you.

So it is that the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus are for you, and they are yours, in the sure promises and certain hope of Him who stands on the beach and beckons you to Himself, to break your fast with His Feast.  So it is that you shall not die but live forever in and with Him.

In that holy faith and confidence, your life right here and now has sacred meaning and purpose.  Whether you have much or little, the Lord Jesus provides all that is needed for all that He would have you do, and for the neighbor He would have you serve.

Do not despise that poor man, or that poor woman, whoever they are.  For you could no more walk from your mother’s womb than he or she could.  You are both alike conceived and born in sin, subject to death, and of yourself unable to do or accomplish anything.  Your works without the gracious providence of the Lord could accomplish nothing; and if He did not open His hand to supply your needs, you would not have anything to eat or drink or wear, nor anywhere to live.

But now the Lord Jesus has raised you up to stand, and He upholds you with His strength.  He has drawn you up out of the water, cleansed you of all your sins, and sanctified you by His Life-giving Holy Spirit.  He has opened His heaven to you, and His Father is well-pleased with you, no matter what your past has been.  Therefore, your labors are not in vain, but they bring forth the fruits of the Lord Jesus who loves you.

Would you know His love for you, and would you rest in His peace?  Come, then, little children, beloved disciples of Jesus.  Come and eat what He has prepared for you.  For He is the Lord, and here He has come to feed you with Himself.  So does He manifest Himself to you again, who was crucified for you and raised from the dead, that you might live in Him, both now and forever.

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

17 April 2017

To and From Emmaus with Jesus

Disciples of Emmaus, you all know what it is like to get your hopes up, only to have them dashed.  Whether it be at work, at home, or at school, in your friendships, in sports or politics, or in the plans that you have made for the future of your family.

Actually, in any and all of these areas of life, your hopes are either in the Lord Jesus Christ, or they are in the idols of this world.  That is to say, whatever you rely upon, whatever you are counting on, and whatever you are living for, that is your god — and it will either be the one true God, Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, or one of the pantheon of false god alternatives.

The irony is that your idols may appear to be working for a while, right up until the time when they can’t and won’t, when they are exposed for the empty and perishing posers they are.  Whereas the Lord Jesus Christ, hidden under the Cross in this fallen world, appears to be helpless and hopeless and utterly useless — a huge disappointment — despite the promise He once showed.

But, now, what do you have to go on?  And what are you going to do about it?  You have heard the Word and promises of God, and now you know the rest of the story.  So, what say you?

Knowing what you know, and having heard what you have heard, you should understand and believe that the Glory of the Christ comes by the way of His Cross and suffering.  And that’s not just ancient history.  It is also your story as a disciple of Christ Jesus.  You also enter into the Glory of God in Christ — you share His Resurrection and His Life — by the way of His Cross and suffering.  Has He not told you ahead of time that it must be so, and what the outcome will be?

This is not about wishful thinking or hoping for the best, but about the faithfulness of the Lord your God, who loves you, and His redemption of you and all His people from sin and death.

It is the story of the Gospel, which you hear and receive in so many ways, because God is so exceedingly rich in His grace toward you.  And it is the story that you have been taught to confess with the whole Church in the Creed: The story of Christ Jesus, of His Cross and Resurrection; which is also the story of your Baptism into Christ, and of your daily dying and rising with Him.

So why do you seem so surprised by the Cross and suffering, and act as though something strange were happening to you, and as though the story were all over, with a very sad ending indeed?

And how is it, after the events of these past several days, that you could now return to your home and family, to your job and to your every day routines, as though the Lord Jesus Christ had been crucified for nothing, and as though He had not risen from the dead?  Even though everything has happened just as He said, and according to the Scriptures, which have always been all about Him.

In truth, your disappointments and discouragements are also part of the Cross that is now laid upon you, in order to put the old Adam in you to death.  Not to end in despair, but to raise you up by faith in the Gospel, as the Lord calls you to repentance and teaches you to fix your hope on Him, to find Him and rely on Him in the fruits of His Sacrifice.  So that, by the ways and means of His Cross, He would raise you up from death and the grave to share in His Resurrection and His Life.

The Cross is not a last-minute gamble or a last-ditch effort; it’s not even a change in the game plan, but the very thing that God the Lord has determined from the beginning, and even from before the foundation of the world.  He created all things in love, and He created Man in His Image and Likeness, fully aware that He would accomplish His purposes by the Cross and Passion of Christ.

Now, it is not for you to ferret out the unrevealed mysteries of God, nor for you to comprehend the mysteries of time and eternity in the mind of God.  But you are given simply to hear and believe, to comprehend and confess the revealed Mysteries of God in Christ Jesus, in the Holy Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles.  All things are fulfilled in Him for the forgiveness of your sins, for the comforting of your conscience, for the strengthening of your faith, and for the raising of your body at the last unto the life everlasting of your body and soul in fellowship with the Holy Trinity.

So, consider for now the story of Moses, whom the Lord called, ordained, and sent to redeem His people Israel from Egypt.  He also suffered with and for the people, not coincidentally, but as a participation in the sufferings of the Christ who was to come, the promised Seed of Abraham.

With Moses, too, there was so much promise, so much hope at first, only to be met with a series of disappointments and setbacks.  The oppression of Pharaoh and the sufferings of the people actually increased and got worse instead of better.  There were ups and downs, and back and forth, first a “yes,” then yet another “no.”  Until the final Plague seemed so decisive.  But even then, what did that require?  The death of the firstborn son, or the sacrifice of the Lamb in place of the son!  Always the Lord is preaching that the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, would be the sacrificial Lamb.

As the people do come out of Egypt, so excited to be on their way to freedom, yet again there is an apparent setback, as Pharaoh and his army, his chariots and horsemen, begin to chase them down.  Then Israel is caught between the Egyptians and the Red Sea, with seemingly no way out; that they should learn to fear, love, and trust in God, to call upon His Name, and to rest in Him.  So, too, when you are caught between a rock and a hard place in your Exodus from death into life.

Well, you know, as we have heard over the past few days, that God brought them safely through the waters of the Red Sea, and that He utterly drowned and defeated the entire Egyptian army in those same waters.  Just as He has brought you through the waters of your Holy Baptism into His Holy Christian Church, so did He rescue His people and bring them out of slavery into freedom.

But of course, they ended up in a desert wilderness, with no water to drink and no food to eat, and they would sooner go back to slavery in Egypt than to waste away and die out there in the wild.  Back and forth the pendulum swings, raising their hopes and then dashing them into the ground.

It never is out of the Lord’s hands, who is always calling them to repentance and faith, and always pointing them to Christ.  Thus, in spite of their grumbling complaints, He fed them with miraculous water from the Rock and with miraculous Bread from heaven, anticipating the One who has now come, who has given Himself into death, who gives to you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink.

And so it goes.  Mt. Sinai is threatening, even deadly, and frightening.  And after God seals His Covenant with Israel through Moses — by way of more sacrifice, and more blood — the Prophet disappears into the thunder and lightning, fire and smoke at the top of the Mountain for forty days and forty nights.  So the people once more give up hope, and make a golden idol for themselves, and party themselves into utter debauchery.  Over and over again, they are tested and tried; they fall short and fail; they are disciplined unto repentance; they call upon the Lord and are saved; and before long they rebel against the Lord and against His servant Moses.  On and on and on it goes.

Was it not necessary, then, for the Christ to suffer all these things, and thus to enter into His Glory through suffering?  Because He suffers with and for His people, bearing their burdens and the assaults and accusations of their enemies.  But so does He also suffer their contempt and idolatry and their sins against Him.  He takes it all upon Himself and willingly suffers for their redemption.

He is both the Firstborn Son and the Passover Lamb who is given and sacrificed in place of all the other firstborn sons.  He is the Servant of the Lord who opens the way through the deadly waters by the wood of His Cross.  He is the Rock who is cleaved to pour out living water and cleansing blood from His side for the cleansing and refreshment of His people.  He is the true Manna from heaven, the Bread of immortality, who feeds His people with Himself from the Tree of the Cross.  He is the holy Sacrifice whose blood is the New Covenant of God with His people.  And He is the One who ascends the Mountain of God by way of His Cross and Passion, suffering the judgment of the Law against your sins, but also keeping and fulfilling the entire Law for your salvation.

All of this, and the entire Old Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ has fulfilled in the very events that His Church has remembered with thanksgiving and celebrated in solemn faith over these past eight days — by the atoning Sacrifice of His Cross and in His mighty Resurrection from the dead.

And it might seem easy enough, in retrospect, to affirm, to believe, and to confess all of that now, so far as He is concerned.  He has risen, just as He said.  He is not dead, but alive forevermore.

Well, good for Him!  Right?  But it is still so hard, if not impossible, for you to see and to believe the promise of His Resurrection in yourself, in your own family, and in the desert wilderness of your life on earth.  Here, it seems, all of your hopes are routinely being dashed on a daily basis.  And even though you do “know better,” your foolish and sinful heart still doubts and is so sad.

That is how it is with you.  And yet, your dear Lord Jesus is so patient and so kind, so that, even as He gently chides you, as He calls you to repentance and faith, He is already acting to help you.

One thing to note, dear Christian, is that your conversation and discussion of the Holy Gospel is not pointless or empty.  For in that story of Christ Jesus, He Himself draws near and goes with you; and then He actually takes the story into His own hands, and He leads you home by His Word.

He opens the Scriptures to you.  And He opens, not only your ears to hear, but also your mind and your heart to comprehend and to believe the Scriptures and all that His Prophets and Apostles have preached.  He does it by the forgiveness of all your sins, and by all that goes with His forgiveness.

He does use the Cross, for that is the very heart of His story.  So it is that your eyes are prevented from seeing Him, and He even acts as though He were going to continue on His way without you.

But remember that the Cross is a means of repentance, which not only crucifies the old Adam in you, but also raises you up as a New Creation in Christ Jesus — alive by faith and living in love.

The Cross of Christ that is laid upon you teaches you to acknowledge and confess your sins, but it also teaches you to hope in His mercy, and to pray.  It teaches you to ask the Lord Jesus to come and stay with you, which is of course the very thing that He has come to do for you in love.

You bring Him home with you, and you bring Him into your home and family, by the ongoing catechesis and confession of His Word.  And that journey of catechesis not only takes Jesus home with you, but it also brings you back “home” with Him.

Thus, by His Word, you live to and from Emmaus with Jesus.  And not only that, but you live to and from Jerusalem, as did those first disciples of Emmaus, who returned that very night to the city they had left behind.  Which is to say, in either case, that you live as a disciple from the Church and always back to the Church, to the gathering of disciples around the Apostolic doctrine and fellowship.  Just like St. Mary and St. Joseph, who returned to Jerusalem to find the Boy Jesus when He had been lost to them, way back at the beginning of St. Luke’s Holy Gospel.

Where, then, shall you find Him?  Have you not heard?  The One who is the true Passover, the true Manna, and the New Covenant, gives Himself to you, to eat and to drink, in the “Breaking of the Bread,” that is to say, in the Holy Communion.  You still can’t see Him with your eyes, but He reveals Himself and you recognize Him here in this Holy Supper at His Altar in His Church.

It is here that you find and receive His Body.  Not in the tomb, which is empty, but here at His Table in His House, where He is not your Guest, but you are His, and He is your gracious Host.  Not only that, but He is your Meat and Drink indeed, by which you live, now and forevermore.

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

16 April 2017

Forgiveness of Sins, Life and Salvation

It is the Lord Jesus Christ who has risen indeed on this Day, this Jesus who was crucified.  And because He is the One who was crucified for you, the One who suffered and died in your place, His Resurrection is also your resurrection, that you should live with Him in His place.

And these good things that we celebrate today, which you have heard and know concerning Jesus of Nazareth, are all rooted in Baptism.  There was St. John’s preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, to which the Lord Jesus submitted Himself.  And there is the Baptism that you have received in His Name.  That is where the strange and dreadful strife of death and life is engaged, unto the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  And the victory remains with life.

It was in His Baptism that Jesus took your sins, and therefore your death, upon Himself.  It is in your Baptism that you receive His Resurrection and His Life through His forgiveness of your sins.  The very forgiveness that Christ Jesus has obtained for you and all by His Cross, He gives to you in Holy Baptism.  And as the consequence of sin is death, so the consequence of forgiveness is life.

It was sin that brought death into the world.  It was sin that brought Christ Jesus to death and the grave.  And His Resurrection is thus an open declaration that sin has been dealt with and forgiven.

In the meantime, the world has decided that death is just another stage in life; that death is natural.  The world preaches that death comes to all, so you just have to accept it and face it when it comes.  Live it up while you can.  Take care of yourself, or don’t; either way, you’re going to die.

That is true to a point.  But it is a lie that death is any part of life.  Not so.  Nor is death natural.  It is rather the curse and consequence of sin.  Sin has invaded and infected God’s good gift of life.  Sin has corrupted and twisted God’s good creation in this natural world.

But the violator has been violated by the voluntary sacrifice of Christ.  Sin has been atoned for, sinners redeemed, and death defeated by His death.  The world is reconciled to God and all things are made new in His Resurrection from the dead, in His crucified and risen Body.  It was a strange and dreadful strife, which went to the core of creation.  But it was finally no contest.  Death bit off more than it could chew and found its teeth and jaws broken and smashed into pieces by Christ.

So the stone is rolled away with a shuddering of the earth, because Christ cannot be held within the tomb.  And neither can you.

You cannot and will not be held in the tomb, because you belong to this Jesus who was crucified, who has risen, just as He said.  You are His disciple.  You are His brother.  You are His friend.  And all that He has done, he has done it for you.  So death doesn’t get to keep you either.

But that’s not yet what you experience in your life on this earth, is it?  The contending of death with life continues within your body and in the world all around you.  There is still the shaking and quaking of the earth beneath your feet, and of your heart and mind within you.

Your family and friends are dying, sometimes in old age, sometimes in youth, and sometimes even in the womb.  And you mourn with those who still remain, even as you are confronted with the fact of your own mortality — which is, at rock bottom, the daily accusation of your sin.  Suffering, sickness, sorrow, and death are all reminders that your life, your thoughts, your words, and your deeds are not what they should be.  You do not live as the faithful disciple, the beloved brother, or the faithful friend of Jesus that you are called to be, and that you ought to be.

You don’t love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with all your mind and all your strength.  You don’t hunger for His Word every day.  You don’t call upon His Name in every circumstance with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  You do not worship Him as you ought.

And you do not love your neighbor as yourself.  You carry grudges, chips on your shoulder.  You allow bitterness and resentment to eat away at you, sometimes for years on end.  You turn a cold shoulder to those who need you.  You turn your back on those you could and should befriend.

You live in fear because, by and with your sins, you still live to that extent in unbelief.  You resort to your idols instead of your Lord.  For though Christ Jesus has risen from the dead, you act as though He has not.  Or as though it made no difference.

But His Cross and Resurrection do make all the difference in the world.  So does the way that you think and speak and act.  I won’t tell you that it finally doesn’t matter, because actually it does.

When you live in the fear of unbelief, then, just like those guards, you’re as good as dead.  And isn’t that ironic?  The dead Man they were supposed to be guarding gets up and walks away, while those guards become like dead men.  Yet, that is how it really is for those who persist in sin and unbelief.  You’re as good as dead, even while you’re walking around doing your thing.  You’re afraid.  You have no peace, within or without.  And you do not love your neighbor as you should.

Christ Jesus be praised that He has not left you without help or recourse.  Indeed, He Himself has become your Strength and your Song, because He has become your Salvation.  Although He has risen from the dead and ascended to the Right Hand of His Father, and though for now you cannot see Him, take heart that He has not forgotten you.  He has not abandoned you.

He has gone on ahead of you, that is true, but He has not left you behind in the dust to languish on your own, to make it on your own.  Though you cannot see Him with your eyes, He’s really not far away from you.  In fact, He is not absent from you at all.  Lo, He is with you always.  He is a very present help in trouble — especially within His holy Christian Church.

Have you heard how the women took hold of His feet?  Maybe that seems odd to you.  That’s not how you would normally greet someone.  But the precious feet of Jesus are beautiful feet.  It is with those feet that He has trod death and the devil into the dirt; that He has crushed the serpent’s head once and for all.  And it is with those feet that Jesus comes to preach the Gospel to you.

Wherever in the world He causes that Gospel to be preached, there He plants His feet.  There He is with you, and there you can lay hold of Him.  As God once promised to Joshua, that wherever he put his feet, the Lord would give that Land to Israel, so wherever in the world Jesus plants His feet, there the Lord establishes His Church, on earth as it is in heaven.

He plants His feet wherever His Gospel is preached.  Where disciples are made through Baptism and catechesis in His Name.  Where sins are forgiven in His stead.  Where His Body and Blood are given and received in remembrance of Him.  That is the Mountain where Jesus meets you, where you lay hold of Him and worship Him by laying hold of His means of grace in His Church.

And everything depends upon His Word.  Just as everything has happened according to His Word, just as He said, so do His Word and promises remain sure and certain here and now for you.

It is by His Word that Jesus befriends you, even though you haven’t been so friendly.  It is by His Word of the Gospel that Jesus makes of you His disciple, and by His Word that He makes of you His brother, a son of God in Him.  It is by His Word that He keeps you steadfast in the true faith, in spite of your doubts and fears.  So that, even in the midst of death, you live and abide in Him.

It is by His Word, therefore, and not by your own experience, insight, or ingenuity, that you find Jesus — right where He has promised to be with you.  And it is by His Word that you take hold of Him in faith.  And it is by His Word that you worship Him.  For as He preaches to you and calls you to faith, so do you speak.  You confess His Name.  You pray, praise, and give thanks.  And it is by His Word that you speak the Gospel of His Resurrection to your neighbors in the world.

You testify that Christ has forgiven your sins; that He has given you life by His Ministry of the Gospel; and that He has made for you a home and family within His Church.  And you call your neighbor to come and receive all of this, as well, by inviting him or her to come along with you.

Not only with your words, but with your life, in all of your actions, and in all of your relationships, you confess the Gospel of the Resurrection, which is the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation.  You forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you, just as you are forgiven by Christ Jesus.

Friends, there is no place in Easter for any refusal to forgive any of your neighbors.  There is no place in Easter for any refusal to be reconciled to one another.  It simply won’t fit.  It won’t work.  For where there is life and salvation in Christ Jesus, there is also the forgiveness of sins.

Christ was crucified for the sins of the world.  They’ve already been put to death and buried with Him, and in His Resurrection all of those sins are forgiven.  Your neighbor’s trespasses, along with your own, have all been put to death and buried with Jesus, and all are forgiven by His holy and precious blood.  This Jesus is risen indeed, and He lives.  Therefore, sin is forgiven, both yours and your neighbor’s.  And that forgiveness is the safe place in which you now live by God’s grace.

Little children have their hidey-holes and treasure troves, their little boxes and special places, where they keep their precious possessions.  Grown-ups do the same thing, too, whether it be in a bank vault, or in lock boxes impervious to fire and flood.  But now consider that Christ Jesus — by His own Cross and Resurrection, in flesh and blood like yours, and by your Baptism into Him — He has hidden your life with Himself in God.  That is where He keeps you safe and sound, now and forever.  Death and the devil can’t touch you there.  They certainly can touch your body, harass your body and life in this world, and even bring you down to the grave — as we have had plenty of examples even in the past couple of weeks.  But they cannot touch your life with Christ in God, nor can they keep your body from rising with Him to the life everlasting in Paradise.

You and your life are safe with Jesus.  You are hidden with Christ in God.  Which means that you are free and clear to love and serve and to forgive your neighbor, no matter what he does to you.

And so shall your crucified and risen Lord Jesus keep you steadfast and secure in His Word and faith, in His Love and His forgiveness, until that day when He calls up your body from this mortal life, from this vale of tears, from the dust of the earth, to live with Him in His Kingdom, both body and soul, forever and ever.  And then your eyes will be able to see Him, your great Redeemer, who died for you and rose again and lives forever.  Your eyes can’t see Him now, but that yet more glorious Day will come when they do.  Then you shall see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him.

Already now you have your Jesus through your ears, in your heart, mind, and body, by His Word.  Hear then what He says to you, and know that His Word to you is true.  As true as He Himself is true — as true as His Cross and Resurrection are true — so are these Words true and for real:

“This Is My Body.  It is given for you.  This Is My Blood.  It is poured out for you.  Take and eat.  Drink.”  These gifts I freely give for the forgiveness of all your sins, so that you should not perish but be saved.  For as I live, so shall you also live, in body and soul, both now and forevermore.

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

14 April 2017

"Woman, Behold Thy Son!" "Behold Thy Mother"

Aside from this Word of Jesus from the Cross, there is only one other time when the Blessed Virgin Mary is mentioned in the Gospel According to St. John — namely, at the familiar Wedding in Cana.  There, as you know, the Mother of Jesus requested that He supply the wine that was lacking for the feast.  Indeed, He did so, changing water into wine as the first Sign of His Glory.

But that was not yet His “Hour,” when His Glory would be fully manifested and all that He had come to do and accomplish for us and our salvation would be finished and fulfilled in His flesh.

Today, however, that Hour has come.  Behold the Glory of God in Christ the Crucified!

Again the Blessed Virgin Mary is there.  Once more, as before, St. John has not identified her by name, but only as “the Mother of Jesus.”  And Jesus addresses her in each case as “Woman.”

It might seem rude or impolite, or perhaps too casual and crass.  Or we might assume that it stems from the customs of a different time and culture than our own.  But our dear Lord Jesus Christ could hardly have used a more exalted word for His dear Mother than to call her “Woman.”

In doing so, He recalls that first promise of the Gospel — given to Adam and Eve in the Garden following their Fall into Sin.  You remember the story.  To the serpent, that old dragon, the devil or Satan, God declared: “I will put enmity between you and the Woman, between your seed and her Seed.  He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Now, here on the Cross, the Seed of the Woman is doing what He has come to do.  He crushes the head of the serpent under His feet, at the cost of His life.  And there is “the Woman,” watching, beholding all the Words and promises of God fulfilled in the Cross and Passion of her Son.

For St. John to describe this holy, faithful Woman, not by name, but only as “the Mother of Jesus,” also indicates that she does not stand there at the foot of the Cross only for herself.  But — as also, for example, in St. John’s Book of the Revelation — St. Mary is here a living icon of the Church.

By the Word and Spirit of God she conceived and gave birth to the Son of God, our Savior, Jesus Christ; not by her own merits, but according to His mercies.  So also, by the Word and Spirit of God, the Church on earth gives birth to the children of God — who are the “sons of God” in Christ Jesus — because they die and rise with Him through Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.

So it is from the Cross, from the depths of His Passion, that this same Lord, Jesus Christ, gives His own dear Mother to be the Mother of His disciple.  He gives the Church to care for His children, and He gives the Ministers of His Word to care for His holy Bride, the Church, in His Name.

This “disciple whom Jesus loved” is universally thought to be St. John himself, the Apostle and Evangelist.  Yet, just as he does not refer to St. Mary by name, neither does he refer to himself by name at any point in his Gospel.  He is always described as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

St. John’s use of this description for himself is neither a pat on the back, nor a case of modesty, but rather an invitation for all the disciples of Jesus — for all of His Christians, including each of you — to recognize themselves in this description: “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  And so you are!

Of the various places in the Gospel where this “disciple whom Jesus loved” is mentioned, there are a number of cases with particular significance.  He reclined at Jesus’ breast at the Lord’s Supper.  He witnessed the trial, the suffering and death of Jesus, as in this Word of the Gospel that we consider here.  And he witnessed both the empty tomb and the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

In each of these cases, you also are with Jesus.  In each of these cases, you also are His beloved disciple: In His Cross and Resurrection, and in His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.

So also does your dear Lord Jesus Christ give you to His Church — who is your Mother in Him.

By the same token, St. John is not only a disciple of Jesus, like yourself; he is also one of the chosen eyewitnesses of the Cross and Resurrection.  He is one of the Apostles of the Lamb.

Therefore, not only is this disciple, St. John, given as a son to the Mother of Jesus, but she also — again representing the Church — is given to St. John.  For the Church on earth is cared for and provided for by way of the Apostolic Holy Ministry of the Gospel–Word and Sacraments.

This Apostolic Ministry by which the Church lives, derives from — and it draws all of its power and authority from — the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus, which is the sacrifice of His Body and Blood as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world.  The Crucifixion of Christ Jesus is “the Hour” of His Glory, the point on which the entire Gospel hinges and depends, even to the end of time.

So it is from “this Hour” of the Cross that the “Woman,” “the Mother of Jesus,” and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” are given to each other as Church and Christian, as pastor and people of God.

Thus does St. Mary behold the Glory that she anticipated and glimpsed at the Wedding of Cana, when her Son, the Son of God, manifested the Glory of His Cross by changing water into wine.  Even as He would use the water of Holy Baptism to change poor, miserable sinners like you into His beloved disciples and the children of His God and Father; and even as He would change and give wine to be poured out for you and for the many as His holy and precious Blood.

So also was the word of St. Simeon to St. Mary fulfilled, that a sword would pierce her own heart and soul over her dear Son, Jesus, who is here given for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign to be spoken against.

That is the great irony and paradox of Christianity: The Glory of Christ, and His victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell; His forgiveness, life, and salvation, and even His rising from the dead — all derive from His Cross and Passion, from His death by crucifixion for the sins of the world.

Apart from faith in Christ, His Cross appears to be the very opposite of what it actually is.  Instead of divine Glory, it looks like nothing else but mortal humiliation.  Instead of victory, it sure looks like an absolute and utter defeat.  Instead of forgiveness and life, it seems to be no more nor less than the curse and judgment of death.  Instead of the rising, it appears to be nothing but the falling.

“But I, when I am lifted up,” says Jesus, “I will draw all people to Myself.”  I will call them by the Gospel; I will enlighten them with My gifts; and I will sanctify and keep them in the true faith unto life everlasting — “When I am lifted up” in death upon the Cross.

Therefore, set appearances aside.  Hear and heed what your Lord says.  From the Cross He gives life and health and strength and protection to His beloved Church by the Ministry of His Gospel.

From the Cross He makes disciples out of sinners from all the nations.  In doing so, He shares with them both His Cross and His Resurrection from the dead — through Holy Baptism in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He grants them faith by His Word of forgiveness and life, and He entrusts them to the loving care of Holy Mother Church, the Mother of all His Christians.

As a member of His Church, as a disciple whom Jesus loves, by faith you see and confess that the Crucified One is the very Lamb of God, who takes away your sins and the sins of the whole world; who gives you that forgiveness — and with it, His life and salvation — by granting you to recline on His breast at His Holy Supper, to be fed by His holy Body and quenched by His precious Blood.

So then, “dear Woman, behold your sons,” the children of God in Christ Jesus.

And you, dear children, “behold your Mother,” the Church of God in Christ.

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

13 April 2017

Love One Another, As I Have Loved You

The Lord Jesus Christ has come down from the Father in heaven to love you.  And He does.  He has, and He will, even to the end.

Consider that His Father has given all things into His hands.  And then consider what He does.  He uses what He has to serve you in love.  He comes down from heaven, and He gets down on His hands and knees, in order to serve you with His own hard work and the fruits of His sacrifice.

Although you’ve heard it all a thousand times, realize just how remarkable all of this really is.  The almighty and eternal Son of the living God, in flesh and blood like yours, hands Himself over to His death upon the Cross.  And even as He does so, He cleanses His disciples of their sins with water and His Word; He gives them His Body to eat, and pours out His Blood for them to drink.

He does such remarkable things for these men who bicker and compete with one another, who will abandon Him and scatter when it all goes down.  He does what He does for Simon Peter, who will deny that he even knows this Man.  He loves and serves even Judas Iscariot, who is betraying Him.

This is the Glory of God in Christ: To love and serve sinners.  To love and serve even you.

From the beginning to the bitter end — which is really not the end but the beginning of a new creation in the crucified and risen Body of Christ — everything proceeds in divine love, which far-and-away surpasses whatever this old world calls “love” and thinks it understands by that word.

It is solely for the sake of His divine love that the only-begotten Son of God has become true Man, and humbled Himself as the Servant of all men, becoming obedient even to the point of death.

All of this He has done for you and all, while you were yet His sworn and bitter enemy in your sin.

It is likewise in His love for you that He has made you God’s own child in your Baptism.  In love that He returns you daily to the cleansing waters of Baptism through the forgiveness of your sins.  And in love that He feeds you with His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion.

Everything proceeds in love, and everything centers in the Cross and Passion of this Lord Jesus Christ.  For He is the Passover Lamb of God who has been given in your place and sacrificed for your sins.  And He is the firstborn Son who is put to death, in order to bring you out of Egypt.

You are baptized into His death, in order to be raised with Him in His Resurrection to newness of life through the forgiveness of all your sins.  So also, by His Word of the Gospel, especially by His Word of Holy Absolution, He washes your feet and restores you to fellowship with Himself.

So it is that you are His disciple and His friend, and a member of His Body and Bride — the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church — by these ways and means of His steadfast love for you.

And as you thus belong to Him by grace, so also love your neighbor as Christ Jesus loves you.

In point of fact, this is no optional matter.  It is the Lord’s Commandment, and He’s not joking.  For love is of God, and the one who does not love, does not know God.

If you are a disciple of Christ Jesus, then come down off your pedestal, and love and serve your neighbor in peace.  Set aside your own interests, let go your privileges, and use your prerogatives to help your neighbor, instead of spending all of your time and energy taking care of yourself.

And do not even think of saying, “It’s not fair,” in light of the Cross of your Lord Jesus Christ!

Of course, it is one thing to love your own family and friends, which is often just another sort of selfishness.  But you are to regard all of your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus as your own dear family.  And you are to befriend the stranger and alien, the widow and orphan, the down and out, and, in short, everyone for whom your Teacher and Lord gave His life.  So that excludes no one.

You are to love the person who snubs or insults you; the person who ignores you, picks on you, or hurts you; the person who has no use for you, and the person who stabs you in the back.

Not simply with pious platitudes and polite formalities, but with genuine, self-sacrificing service.  Not begrudgingly, with a chip on your shoulder, but gladly and willingly, for love’s sake — for Jesus’ sake.  Not expecting anything in return, nor with any sort of conditions or contingencies.

This is how the love of Jesus works and lives.  This is how He loves you and all of your neighbors.  And as He lives and loves in you by grace, the world will see and know that you are His disciple; that you belong to Him; that He is your Teacher, and that you are His good and faithful student.

But if you do not love your neighbor: Repent.  I’m not talking about your feelings, but about your words and actions.  If you do not love your neighbor in deed and truth, as the Lord Jesus loves you and has commanded you to love: Repent.  Do not suppose that it is a small or incidental matter.  Your lack of love is sinful, a fruit of unbelief, and left unchecked it will devour and destroy you.

Judas loved money more than God or man, and you have heard and know how his selfish greed opened his heart to the devil, so that he betrayed the very Lord who lavished such love upon him.

How often is money your priority?  Or some other interest a greater demand than your neighbor?

Do not imagine that you are beyond temptation, or that you could never fall from grace.  Instead, repent of all your sins, and flee to the Lord Jesus Christ, who washes your feet with His Gospel.

No slave is greater than his Master.  No student is greater than his Teacher.  You will never learn to love your neighbor, nor will you be able to do so, except by the love of God in Christ for you.

Learn from this Holy Gospel, and bear in mind, that God’s love for you in Christ is not some cozy feeling in the air or in your heart.  And His love for you is not a one-shot deal, once upon a time.

Christ Jesus loves you with His Gospel, His Word and Sacrament, His means of grace.  As He loved you by His death upon the Cross, so does He now love you by the fruits of His Cross: By the preaching of His Gospel; by His spoken Word of Absolution; by the prevailing waters of your Baptism; and by His Body given and His Blood poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

It is by and with these means of grace that Jesus loves you.  Not because you are good, nor because of your good intentions, but solely for the sake of His own Love.  Because Love is who He is.

He loves you with these means of grace by forgiving all of your sins.  And with that forgiveness of sins, He renews and strengthens your faith, and He teaches you, as well, to love your neighbor.

Peter was at first ashamed to have the Lord Jesus wash his feet.  Then from one extreme to the other, he wanted more than what his Lord had spoken.  How difficult it is to accept and be content with the simple means of grace that Jesus provides!  And yet, Peter needed the loving service of his Lord Jesus, even more than he knew or could bring himself to admit on that night.

Learn from that example, that you should repent of yourself and your sins and rely upon the Lord and His Word to you.  Be neither too ashamed nor too proud to be served by the Lord Jesus in the ways that He has chosen to love and serve you.  Do not think yourself too good to need Him, nor think yourself too bad to be worthy of Him.  It is no question of your worthiness, but of His love.

If you do not love your neighbor: Repent.  But do not despair.  Rather, return to the Lord your God, to your dear Savior, Jesus Christ, who is the Wellspring of Life and the Fountain of all true Love.

In His love for you is the forgiveness of all your sins.  And in His love for you is your strength and your song, your life, and your salvation.  For He has opened His great heart of love to you, to bring you out of Egypt, to lead you safely through the desert, and to gather you into Paradise forever.

His love for you does not falter or fail.  Even in the face of your betrayal, denial, and fear, your lack of love, and whatever other failure you have made, He washes your feet, and He feeds you.

Indeed, with such a Meal does He feed you!  His own Body given for you.  His own Blood poured out for you.  Here is divine Love in the flesh, in Person, and for you.  Here is Love that never ends.

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

12 April 2017

The Gifts Christ Freely Gives in Love for Us

Little children, see what love the Father has for you, that He has given His only-begotten Son for you, and handed Him over to His death upon the Cross.  And see how the Son of God loves you, by giving Himself for you, and by serving you at His own expense.

But no, of course you cannot see it, can you?  Not with your eyes.  It is with your ears, first of all, that you are a disciple of Christ Jesus.  You seek Him, but you are not able to find or follow Him, except by the hearing of His Word to you.  Even at that, it is a hard Word to understand, and it is harder still to bear it and believe it, to trust what Jesus says, and to live according to it in this life.

Nevertheless, it is with His Word that He has cleansed you in the waters of your Holy Baptism.  And it is with His Word that He gives to you His Bread to eat, which is His Body, here at His Table.  So, then, receive what He gives to you here, but do not take it lightly or for granted.

It is indeed a risky business to eat bread with Jesus.  Not only because the world will hate you for it, and it will seek to kill you, as it seeks to kill Him, and as our brothers and sisters in Egypt have suffered earlier this week.  And not only because Satan will rage the more fiercely against you and press you that much harder.  But it is risky to break bread and to drink with Jesus at His Table, especially because you are thus presented with God Himself, His Glory and His Life, in such a way that you may actually receive Him to yourself, into your mortal hands and mouth and body.

As the Lord your God entrusts Himself to you, and as He gives Himself to you in this way, take care that you do not betray Him.  Do not lift up your heel against the One who kneels down to wash your dirty feet, this Servant of the Lord who humbles Himself to serve you with such love.

Do not deny this dear Lord Jesus Christ with the same mouth that has received the Bread from His hand, which is His Body given for you.  Do not curse, swear, lie, or deceive, neither against Him, nor against your neighbor, with the same lips and tongue that have received His Cup of Salvation.

Do not seek a greater glory for yourself, nor strive for any other greatness in your body and life, but bear and carry His Cross in faith toward God and in love for your neighbor.

If you would compete with your fellow disciples, then outdo one another in such love, as God in Christ has loved you.  Live to the glory of His Holy Name, as He has lived for you, and died for you, and ever lives to make intercession for you before the throne of God.  And if you must boast, then boast of this dear Lord Jesus Christ, who has given and poured Himself out for the many.

What would you buy or sell, or spend or give — what would you do or sacrifice — in order to be with this Lord Jesus where He is?  To follow Him, wherever He goes, into eternal life with God?

It is not for you to purchase or to achieve by any machinations or efforts of your own.  It is for you to hear His Word, to receive His gifts, and to follow Him by faith in His Cross, reconciled to God the Father by His Blood.  It is for you to live by His grace, and to love your neighbor graciously.

Are you afraid that you will falter or fail, as Simon Peter did?  Or, what is worse, do you fear that you will be enticed by the devil and fall from grace altogether, like Judas Iscariot?

Child of God, examine your heart and confess your sin, but do not look to yourself.  Look rather to Christ Jesus by listening to Him, to the teaching of His Word and the preaching of His Gospel.  Hear what love He has for you!  Not because you are so good or so faithful; for you are neither of those things.  But He is good, and He is faithful, and in His love for you He does not falter or fail.

Even when you were estranged from Him — at enmity with Him in your unbelief, idolatry, and sin — He handed Himself over to death, and gave Himself for you on the Cross, and shed His holy, precious Blood for you, in order to redeem you from sin and death, and to reconcile you to God.

You are forgiven by His Sacrifice.  Your doubts and denials are healed in His wounds.  If you have even gone so far as to betray Him, to sell Him out for cash, to question His sanity or wisdom, or to deny that you know Him — Repent, and believe the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins.

Dear friend of God in Christ, recline here at His Table in peace.  For the Bread that Jesus gives you is not given to be a threat, but as a promise and as the most sacred Gift.  Receiving it, you receive Christ Jesus Himself, that you should follow Him, even through death, into the life everlasting.  Reclining here at His breast, you rest in the bosom of the Father who loves you for Jesus’ sake.

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

05 April 2017

To Live and Love by Faith in the Forgiveness of Sins

At the heart and center of your sinfulness, you want to be free of God.  You want to be a god unto yourself, free to live your own life and do your own thing — and you want to look good doing it!

Thus, your greatest sin is also your greatest pride, which you guard zealously along with you ego.

But attempting to hide and protect yourself from the exposure of your guilt and shame drives your sin inward, where it continues to work its deadly curse within you and upon you.  So you end up hiding and protecting yourself from the one and only cure: the healing medicine of the Gospel.

Thanks be to God that He does not leave you to your sin, but He disciplines and chastens you, because He loves you.  As a father disciplines and chastens the son whom he loves, the Lord addresses your sins; He corrects your errors; He calls you to repentance; and He trains you in the way of righteousness and truth, that you should live in faith toward Him and in love for others.

In particular, He does allow the curse of the fall and the consequences of your own sins to hinder and impede your relentless pursuit of sin and death, so that even the calamities of life and death are bent and constrained to serve His good and gracious will for you and your salvation.

Now, when you are subjected to sickness or some other kind of suffering, when you face trials and tribulations in this body and life, and when you bear the penalties and punishments of the wrong that you have done — whatever the case may be — your sinful inclination is to search for some remedy of the superficial symptoms, so that you can simply get on with your habits and routines.

But the Lord is really aiming at your heart.  Like a surgeon, He would open you up to address the deeply rooted evil of your sinful heart, which is the underlying cause of all your sin and death.

The particular sins of thought, word, and deed that you commit on a daily basis, as well as the outward consequences of sin in your mortal flesh and blood, all point to the heart of the problem.  They expose the unbelief and idolatry of your heart, out of which every other sin of mind, mouth, and body proceeds, driving you away from God and further into death and damnation.

The Lord, therefore, would bring you, not simply to some kind of rehabilitation, but to actual repentance, that is, to contrition and to faith in the Gospel.  To sorrow for your sins, but also to rely upon His grace and mercy and forgiveness of your sins.  Such repentance is entirely the work of God, who acts upon you with His Word — with His Law that kills you, and with His Gospel that gives you life.  And this Word of the Law and the Gospel is neither abstract nor generic.  It is not simply aimed at everyone.  The Lord addresses His Word quite personally and specifically to you.

The Lord’s goal in all of this is not finally punitive.  It is not punishment for its own sake.  He has in fact already put the entire penalty and punishment for all of your sins upon Christ Jesus, His own dear Son.  There is therefore now no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.

So, then, the discipline and chastening of your God and Father in Christ are not at all intended to harm you or destroy you.  It is rather the case, paradoxically, that He puts you to death and kills you with His preaching of the Law, in order to raise you up to newness of life with His Word and preaching of the Gospel.  It is painful, yes, but it is all for the purpose of help and healing.

No pain, no gain.  But the Lord is not out to break you.  The truth is that you are already broken, and He seeks to make you healthy and whole, a brand new creature in body and soul.

It is again like the surgeon who cuts into your body, who does real violence to your body — and puts you to sleep for a while, like a little death — in order to heal you and wake you up to a new and better life.  Like the mechanic who takes your car apart and makes it useless for awhile, in order to remove what is broken and replace those parts, so that your car will drive safely and well.

The correction and healing that God works in you is not to bring about self-righteousness in you, but the righteousness of faith in His free and full forgiveness of your sins through the grace of His Gospel in Christ Jesus.  He does not make you new so that you can save yourself by your own good works.  Instead, He makes you new by saving you with His good works on your behalf.

The Lord your God does not wait for you to get your act together and come to Him on your own.  You know that, of yourself, you could not and would not ever do so.  And even now, as a child of God, though you do live by His grace through faith in His Word, you also remain a poor child of Adam, and you so often find yourself paralyzed by guilt and shame, by dark regrets and deadly fears, which hinder you and hold you back from seeking the Lord where He may be found.

So it is that, when you cannot bring yourself to Jesus — or you simply won’t, because you are more and more ensnared by your sins and vices and the idolatry of this fallen and perishing world — then the Lord often brings you to Himself by the agency of your Christian family and friends, your parents and teachers who speak and act in love for you, even when you may resent their help.  Or, again, He might come to you, and confront you with His Word, and call you to repentance through His called and ordained servants, who speak in His Name and act with His authority.

As a Christian, however, you should understand that a healthy spiritual life will involve regularly going to the Lord Jesus by way of contrition and repentance, by confession of your sins, and by faith in His forgiveness of sins.  You lay hold of that forgiveness by laying hold of the Lord Jesus Christ in His Word and promises of the Gospel — by making active use of His means of grace.

Really, the entire Christian life is lived by such faith in the forgiveness of the Gospel.  Everything depends upon that forgiveness.  So the entire life of the Church is arranged for that forgiveness.

To be a Christian, and to live as a Christian, first and foremost, is to live constantly immersed in the forgiveness of sins.  To revel in the Gospel of forgiveness, and always to rely upon it.  That is the very essence of faith:  Every day.  All the time.  But so also in particular ways, at specific times and in specific places.  Not only in your head and in your heart, with your intellect and emotions, but in your body, also, with your words and actions.

As your sinful unbelief and idolatry are manifest in your sinful words and actions, so is your faith in the Gospel manifest in the confession of Christ and in the right worship of the Lord your God, which is to say, by hearing His Word, by calling on His Name, and by living within His Liturgy.

Repentance, again, involves a recognition of your sins, and regret for your sins, but also a reliance on the forgiveness of your sins in the Name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Savior.

It is in such forgiveness, and for such forgiveness, that you daily pray in the Our Father, as the Lord Himself has taught you and invited you to pray.  And it is likewise with such forgiveness that you live in love for your brothers and sisters in Christ, and for all of your neighbors in the world.

As you depend upon the Lord’s forgiveness of your sins for everything that you need in this body and life, and for the life everlasting, so do you forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you.

What does that look like in practice?  It is to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Or, to say it even better, it is to love your neighbor as the Lord Jesus loves you.  It is to be humble and kind, knowing your own unworthiness and need and the Lord’s grace and mercy toward you. It is to be gentle, compassionate, generous, and charitable in your thoughts, words, actions, and assistance.  It is to give as you have received, not stingily or grumpily, but gladly and abundantly, even to those who have sinned against you; for the Lord your God has given Himself for you and to you.

To live by faith in the forgiveness of sins also looks and sounds like Confession and Absolution, which the Lord has provided by and with His own authority for the comforting of your conscience, for the strengthening of your faith, and for the salvation of your body and soul in His Name.

As you pray in the Our Father, and as you deal with your neighbors in faith and love and with the forgiveness of sins, so do you go to the Lord Jesus Christ by going to your pastor for the help and healing care of the Gospel, which your pastor has been called and sent to speak and administer.

This means of grace, that is, the practice of Confession and Absolution — the Fifth Chief Part of the Christian faith and life, which some Lutherans have appropriately called the Third Sacrament — it is at the very heart and center of all pastoral care.  To forgive sins in the Name and stead of Christ is the definitive essence of the pastoral office.  Everything else a pastor is given to do takes its cues from the Office of the Keys, because everything aims at the forgiveness of sins.  Whatever else a pastor does, and whatever else may happen in the Church, depends on that forgiveness.

The hearing of confession with the ears of Christ, and the speaking of Holy Absolution with the mouth of Christ, is how a pastors administers the significance of Holy Baptism.  It is the fountain from which his preaching and catechesis of the Law and the Gospel emerge and arise, and to which they return.  It is the pastoral care with which the Lord brings you to His Supper in repentant faith, relying not upon yourself, nor hiding away to protect your ego, but boldly resting in Christ Jesus.

To examine yourself as the Word of the Lord and the Catechism have taught you, to confess your sins in the light of the Ten Commandments, and to hear and receive the Holy Absolution that is spoken to you — that is to live as a Christian by faith in the forgiveness of the Gospel, and to make use of the means that Christ has instituted and provided for your good and for the glory of God.

Is it humbling and embarrassing?  It sure can be.  But this humility is good, and the embarrassment is not that bad.  And these emotions, colored as they are by your sin, are not the whole story in any case.  They are certainly not the main point or purpose of Confession and Absolution.  You bring these emotions to your Lord, along with your sins, to seek and receive His mercy and compassion.

The spiritual care that you thus receive from your pastor is similar, in this respect, to the bodily care that you ask for and receive from your medical doctor.  You reveal things to your doctor, and even expose yourself to your doctor, in ways that you would not do with anyone else.  You make yourself vulnerable, and you acknowledge your weaknesses, in the interest of getting help, and with the hope and expectation that your doctor can address and do something about your illness.

So does the practice of confession allow your pastor the opportunity to be a good physician of your soul.  To know you well.  To know and understand your weaknesses and struggles.  And to address your sins and heal you with the life-giving medicine of the Gospel.

When it’s all said and done, no medical doctor on earth will be able to keep you from dying; far less will any doctor on earth be able to save your body and soul from your sins, from the assaults and accusations of the devil, or from the damnation of hell.  But your dear Lord Jesus Christ has entrusted your pastor with this medicine of immortality, with His own Word of forgiveness, which does what it says and gives what it promises.  From your pastor’s mouth in the Name and stead of Christ, it is just as valid and certain on earth as it is in heaven.

The Holy Absolution that Christ Jesus speaks by the mouth of His servant does forgive your sins.  It does deliver your soul and body from eternal death and damnation.  And as such, it does indeed armor you and arm you against the assaults and accusations of the devil, who simply cannot stand against this Word of the Lord.  For the Lord would have you live with Him in safety and peace.  And to that end He has come to be your Champion, to fight for you and protect you; not only by His dying and rising once upon a time, but now also by and with this Word of Absolution that He speaks to you from the sacrifice of His Cross and in the righteousness of His Resurrection.

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