16 July 2017

Receiving the Seed of the Sower

Everything depends upon the preaching of God’s Word.

For this reason, throughout the history of the world, He has never failed to raise up preachers and teachers of His Word.  From the holy Prophets and Apostles, to the ends of the earth and the close of the age, He causes His Word to be preached in order to accomplish His gracious purposes.

At the heart and center of it all, the Lord Himself, the almighty and eternal Son of God, in mercy and compassion, He has come down from heaven to preach, and by His preaching to gather people to Himself, into His Church, and thereby to His Father in heaven.

So does He still come to you and preach His Word to you by the Ministry of the Gospel.  Listen to Him.  Hear and receive His preaching, and cling to it for dear life.

So important is the preaching of Christ that the emphasis in this familiar Parable is not on the content of the preaching per se, but rather on the preaching itself, and on the Preacher, the Sower of the Seed.  The focus is on the character and the consequences of His sowing.

For your part, if you are to live and bear fruit in the Kingdom of God, it all depends on receiving that Seed from the Sower and hanging onto it.  Not giving it up or letting it go, but continuing to hear it, to consider it, to remember it, to pray and confess it, and to live according to it.

Everything depends on the Seed.  And yet, it is a mysterious and elusive Word, which is attacked and hindered on every hand.  It is hidden by God Himself from the wise and the intelligent, and revealed by His grace alone to babies and infants, and to those who become like little children.  Thus does Jesus speak in Parables, that the Mysteries of God should be hidden from the crowds and explained to His disciples within the household and family of His Church.

You cannot receive, believe, or hang onto the Word of Christ except by faith.  And yet, such faith comes only by the hearing of His Word; it is not something you can choose or decide for yourself.

There is nothing you can do but listen to the preaching, and everything else must flow from that.  But consider how difficult and precarious it is to be a hearer of this Word.  Which is what it means, first and foremost, to become a disciple of Jesus, to be a Christian: To hear and learn His Word.

If you wander off the road to the left or to the right — if you neglect the catechesis of His Word in the rhythm of your life at home and here within the Liturgy of His Church — then how quickly and easily the Word is snatched away from you, and you are lost.  And how sad and tragic it is, that the devil’s “birds” should be hungrier for the Word of God than you are!

Therefore, parents, understand how absolutely critical it is that you catechize your children with the Word of God and prayer in your home, and that you bring them to the Lord’s House, as well.  There is nothing more important that you do as a father or mother, than to give your children the Word of God and bring them to the Body of Christ.  To catechize them.  To share the Scriptures with them.  To pray with them.  To teach them what Baptism means.  To emulate the Christian faith and life by your example.  And to bring your children to church, week after week throughout the year, as surely as you feed and clothe them and care for their bodily needs every day.

It is in fact even more important that you care for your children with the Word of God than it is to meet the mundane needs of their bodies in this world.  Their eternal life in body and soul depends on the hearing of the Word of Christ, lest they be devoured by the devil.  If you have seen to it that your children (and grandchildren) have been baptized, it is equally essential that they continue to be catechized in all that Jesus has commanded.  His Baptism and His catechesis necessarily belong together.  And that is the case, not only for the little children, but for every disciple of Christ Jesus.  Whatever your age, you need the catechesis of His Word if you are to be and remain a Christian.

Without the Word of Christ, there is no life, there is no growth, there is no fruit, and there is no harvest.  It doesn’t matter what the soil is like.  If there’s no Seed, nothing happens.

But when the Seed of the Word of Christ is heard and received, it does bear fruit in abundance.  Fruit after its own kind.  Fruits of faith and love, like those of Christ, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God, borne upon the branches of His Cross.

So, then, where and what are the fruits of faith and love in your life?  What is the produce in your words and in your actions?  A hundred-fold?  Or sixty-fold?  Or thirty-fold?  Or anything at all?  Are you a Christian in name only, or in deed and in truth?

Perhaps you have been eager to begin with, full of zeal for the preaching of God’s Word.  But where has your enthusiasm gone?  And what has transpired in your faith and life?  When the Word of Christ has brought difficulties and hardships, have you clung to it, or have you given it up?  Or, if you have not suffered for the Word of Christ, why not?  Do you imagine that being a Christian and having faith are about feeling good and having a good time?  That is surely not the Word and promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, who says that discipleship is to bear the Cross after Him.

Is it sometimes the case that even the hearing of the Word of Christ is a heavier burden than you are willing to bear?  To get out of bed and drive or drag yourself to church, or to gather your family back around the table and to pray?  You’re here this morning, Christ be praised!  Hang on to the Word that is preached to you by the gracious providence of God: In your head.  In your heart.  In your life and practice.  It is the most precious thing entrusted to you in this body and life on earth.

Do not be persuaded and driven about by the deceitfulness of riches (of whatever kind), as though worldly wealth were the real secret of success and satisfaction and security.  It’s not.

Chasing after wealth and riches will choke you.  Jesus says so.  It will kill you, and it will rob you of life, now and forever.  It’s all a big lie, anyway.  It’s a trick, nothing but smoke and mirrors, hiding a deadly and damnable deception.  The love of money is the root of all evil; not that it hurts God, but that your lust for wealth and riches hurts you, and it hurts the neighbor you are to love.

So don’t allow the money in your hand or in your pocket to control you, but receive it from the Lord and use it with thanksgiving to care for your family, your neighbors, and the Lord’s Church.

Do not let go of God’s Word for any amount of money. Rather, spare no expense at all to hear it.  And see to it that others are likewise able to hear God’s Word and the preaching of it.  That is the fundamental purpose of your offerings; that the Church on earth and the Ministry of the Gospel be supported, maintained, and extended, all for the preaching and hearing of God’s Word.

Refusing to hear and heed the Word of Christ, in favor of money or whatever else you may prefer, is a rejection of the Kingdom of God.  It is a rejection of His righteousness.  It is to say no to His life and salvation.  For all such idolatry and unbelief in your heart and life, repent.  Repent.

But how?  There is no power in you — there is no ability in you — there is no capacity or wisdom in you — to hear and comprehend the Word of God, which is your only hope and salvation.  You cannot believe it, you cannot keep it, and you cannot do it, not by any reason or strength in you.

The Seed has to be revealed to you, it has to be given to you, it has to produce its fruits in you — or else nothing!  Hear, then, the Parable.  It is not the parable of the soil, but of the Sower and His Sowing.  And in this case, the Sower is the Seed.  He it is, and He alone, who bears much fruit.

For He is the One who has not only come down from heaven and gone out to sow, but has made Himself nothing and willingly gone to the Cross and humbled Himself unto death.  As the Seed of God and the Seed of the Woman, He has planted Himself into the ground, in His death, in order to be raised up and bear abundant fruit — for you and for all.  In order to become the First Fruits of the New Creation, and the Firstborn from the dead, the Firstborn of many brothers.

All the devil’s temptations He has suffered, and He has overcome them in steadfast faith and love.  He has gone without food rather than forego the Word of God.  In love for His Father, and in love for you and all people, He has gone to the Cross and died.  And in His Resurrection, He has given you new birth and new life through Holy Baptism.  By the means of that Holy Sacrament, and by its ongoing significance, He waters His crops generously with the life-giving Spirit of God.

You flourish and grow — and you do bear fruit, whether you realize it or not — by that Word and Spirit of God.  Because the Lord Jesus, who is both the Sower and the Seed, He has borne the burden of the Cross and the burning heat of the day, and He has endured to the end.

Far from succumbing to the weight and worries of the world, He has carried it all upon His back and shoulders.  He has borne it in His Body to the Cross for you and your salvation.

And rather than selling out to the deceitfulness of riches, He has made Himself poor in order that, by His poverty, you might become rich and inherit all the treasures of the Kingdom of God.

The thorns and thistles of Adam’s fall into sin have not been able to choke this planting of the Lord forever.  They have done their worst and brought Him to shame and death, but by His bloody Cross and Passion He has borne the fruits of the Tree of Life in His Resurrection from the dead.

Here, then, there is a harvest a hundred times over.  His Tree of the Cross thrives and bears life-giving fruit, even in the desert, even in the wilderness.  Here and now He feeds you from that Tree of Life.  And just as He is both the Sower and the Seed, so is He also the Harvest and the Meal.

Eat His Body.  Drink His Blood.  These fruits of Christ, the Word-made-Flesh, bear fruit in you after their own kind: Fruits of the Spirit.  Fruits of faith and love.  Fruits of patience under persecution.  Fruits of kindness, generosity, and forgiveness for every wrong.  Thirty-fold.  Sixty-fold.  One-hundred-fold.  Seventy times seven.  Never stopping.

Do not make excuses for yourself.  But neither suppose that you will bear or produce anything on your own apart from Christ.  Apart from Him, you can do nothing.

Rather, as He has given you ears to hear, listen.  For He keeps on preaching to you in love.  And open your hands to receive His good gifts, which He freely pours out for you.  Open your mouth and be fed.  Hear and receive the Seed of the Sower, that is, the Word of Christ your Savior.

He is full of compassion and mercy.  He is slow to anger and full of great kindness.  He does not deal with you as your sins deserve, but He remembers the Covenant of His own flesh and blood.  His merciful goodness endures forever, and by His righteousness He forgives you all your sins.

The grass withers, and its flower fades, but this Word of the Lord abides — for you — and bears much fruit, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul.

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

09 July 2017

Where and When It Pleases God in Christ

What are you working for?  Think about it.  Seriously.  Some of you are working harder than others.  Probably all of you work harder on some days than on other days.  But all of you work hard at something.  What is it you are working for?

And what is it that you’re worried about?  What is it that weighs heavy on your heart and mind?

What are you looking to find?  What is it that you want?  What is it that you’re trying to achieve and accomplish?  Is it safety and security?  Peace of mind?  Rest and relaxation?  Or, finally, some kind of relief from all of your burdens of body, soul, and spirit?  A chance to live without fear?

But just think, how odd it is that you would drive yourself into the ground and work yourself to death, in hopes of finding rest.  And how often it is that, in your efforts to find peace, you agonize and worry about every step you take, every decision you make, and every potential outcome.

The fact of the matter is that real life, and real peace, and real rest are found only in God, your Creator, in His Word and Holy Spirit.  And all of this is given to you solely by His grace, by His divine charity; not by your works, but by the Word and work of His Gospel.  Thus do you receive His Life and His Salvation, and thus do you have peace and rest, by faith alone in Christ alone.

The Lord your God reveals Himself and His Christ, and He gives Life, not to proud, independent, self-sufficient adults, but to infants and toddlers.  To the little ones, who are so weak and helpless, who do not rely upon themselves because they can’t.  They must depend on others to do and provide everything for them; else they die.

It is to such as these that the Kingdom of heaven belongs.  It is to such as these — little children, babes in arms, infants even in the womb — it is to them that God reveals Himself in Christ Jesus.

And the Son reveals the Father to whom He wills.  Not to the man or woman who works and strives, worries and frets, but to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.  He does so, where and when it pleases Him, solely by the Gospel of His Cross, by the preaching of forgiveness in His Name.

You do not have God on a chain or a leash.  He’s not at your beck and call.  Nor is He within your grip or in your back pocket.  He gives Himself to you by grace.  You cannot choose Him or take Him for yourself.  You cannot even accept Him by any savvy, strength, or strategy of your own.

It’s not that you’re not trying hard enough.  It’s not that you’re not strong enough or smart enough.  All your trying, all your strength, and all of your smarts get in the way.  Whatever you attempt to do by your own power is not only incapable of achieving life with God; it is counter productive.

Apart from faith (which is itself God’s gracious gift), all of your best efforts, all of your righteous deeds, and all of your good intentions are sinful and unclean.  They drive you that much further from God.  They do not bring you peace but anxiety, even despair.  They do not give you rest but weariness and exhaustion, both mentally and physically.  They do not bring you life but death.

Did you not hear what Jesus said?  The Father hides Himself from all manner of self-righteousness.  He hides Himself from those who try to seek Him by their own wisdom, reason, or strength.  He will not be known except by His own grace.  He does not want you to work your way to Him — as if you even could!  He will not have it.  If you make the attempt, you’ll be playing hide-n-seek with One who cannot be found (though you will not be able to hide from Him in the Judgment).

God hides Himself from every kind of self-righteousness, including your own.  It may seem easy enough to pick on those who teach that man is justified by his good works or that he might earn or even purchase an indulgence for his sins.  But you’ll not save yourself, either, by pointing out the errors in your neighbor’s confession, faith, and life.  Rather be concerned about yourself and your own ways and means of self-righteousness.  Examine your heart, mind, and life; and repent.

Confessing the doctrine of the Apostles and living within the fellowship of the Church are essential to your faith and life with God; for it is among those who hear and receive the Gospel that Christ reveals Himself and His Father and pours out His Holy Spirit.  But are you living by such faith in the Gospel of your Lord?  Or do you imagine that you have done Him a favor by going to church and giving up some of “your time” to let His Word pass over you, in one ear and out the other?

How is it that you live from Sunday to Sunday?  When you get up in the morning, how do you go about your day?  That’s how you know where your faith and trust really are, whether you are living by your own works and your own worries, or by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

How do you spend most of your time?  What is it that occupies your thoughts?  Where and how do you expend your energy?  That tells you where your god is to be found, and what your god is.

Where is it, and how is it, that you invest or spend your money?  Your treasures and your talents?  Your riches of whatever kind?  Where and how do you invest yourself?  And to what end?   Are you striving to make a life for yourself, in which no one tells you what to do, but you make your own rules, you pursue your own desires, and you reign as lord and god of your own kingdom?

Repent.  You will not find what you really need by any of your schemes and selfish machinations.  You will not find the one true God that way.  You will not find life in His Kingdom by following your heart, sticking to your guns, or looking out for yourself, as though you were number one.  And you’ll never find peace or rest like that.  Not by your intelligence, knowledge, or academic achievement.  Not by your hard work, and certainly not by wringing your hands in anxiety.  Nor even by your religious piety.  You won’t get yourself into heaven by going to church or doing what a Christian should do (though you will be in the right place and better off than those who don’t).

None of your own efforts will do the trick.  The harder that you try to make it work that way, the further away and the more elusive the Lord and His Life and the Kingdom of heaven will be.  Because the problem is not that you’re not trying hard enough.  The problem is that you’re trying at all.  You’re trying to do and accomplish what you are not called or able to do.  Stop.  Repent.

Everything that you need for life with God — for which you were created by God in love — it is all given to you freely.  It is entirely by grace.  It is the gift of God, to the glory of His holy Name.

It is all given to you in the Cross of Christ.  And there’s the real irony.  There’s the conundrum.  “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light,” He says.  And then, “If you would be My disciple, take up the Cross and follow Me.”  Get nailed to the Cross, and die.  But is that easy?  Is that light?

It is only by the Cross that you have Life and Peace and Rest.  But the Cross does not feel like an easy burden or a light yoke.  The Cross feels hard, and heavy, and burdensome, and as though it were going to crush and destroy you utterly.  The Cross confronts your old man as far harder than all of your hard work and best efforts.  Which is why you deceive yourself, and the devil delights to deceive you, so that you despise the Cross of Christ and pursue your own passions instead.

The fact is, you cannot bear His yoke unless you learn from Christ to bear it by faith in His Word and promises.  It is by faith alone, and not by works at all, because the Cross puts to death and buries all that you are, your ego and your pride, your savvy and your strength, your wisdom and intelligence, and all of your achievements and self-righteousness.  The Cross puts all that to death, so that you might be reborn as a little child of God, and raised up to newness of life in Christ Jesus.

So, then, learn from Him.  Disciple of Jesus, follow Him.  Watch how He lives.  Listen to what He says.  He teaches you because He loves you.  Learn from Him to bear the Cross in faith and love, in the hope and promise of His Resurrection.  Learn humility before God, as Christ humbled Himself and became obedient unto death; and learn to be humble and kind toward your neighbor.

And learn to love your neighbor in the way that Christ loves you, who had nothing to gain for Himself, but He gave up everything for your sake.  He bore the Cross for you, and He bore all of your burdens, all your griefs and sorrows, all your iniquities and sins, and all the sins of others against you, in His own Body on the Cross, in order to save you for life with His God and Father.

So does He also come to you now; and it is by His coming to you, that He enables you to come to Him in faith.  That is the point in the Word He speaks to you this morning, His gracious invitation: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  That is not a command, a word of the law to burden and accuse you.  It is a precious promise of the Gospel to strengthen and sustain your faith against the lies of the devil, and against all the doubts and despair of your own sinful heart.  You come at His Word, not as though you are worthy, nor as though to earn and achieve something from Him, but because He has called you and welcomed you to Himself.

It is His good and gracious will that you should have peace and rest and life in Him.  That’s what He wants!  His desire is that you have life with God in body and soul; that you know His God and Father as your own dear God and Father in Him.  He has reconciled you to God by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  And He has made you His beloved child by your Baptism.

Come to Him, then, and take His yoke upon you.  Not by working, but by receiving what He gives.

Are you weary?  He gives you rest, because He has worked for you.  Are you anxious?  Are you afraid?  He gives you peace, because He has borne your burdens, all your fears and frustrations, all your anxieties and stress.  And He has done all things well.  He has made everything right.

Don’t quit your job.  Don’t stop working.  Don’t abandon your stations in life.  The rest that is yours in Christ is not a permanent vacation or a neverending party.  It does not mean that you’re now free to stay in bed all day, or that you’re at liberty to fritter away your time and energy in pursuit of false gods and idolatry.  It rather means that you now go about your work and do your job as one who lives in Christ.  You rest in Him by faith in His Gospel.  You have peace with God in Him, even as you labor and sweat to love and serve your family, friends, and neighbors.  You do not work to save yourself, as though your life depended on it, but because life and salvation and all good things are yours in Christ.  Thus are you free to live your life in love for God and man.

If you are a Christian, a disciple of Christ Jesus, then you have such peace and rest, and you are able to love as you are loved.  For right here and now, by the Ministry of His Gospel, He gives Himself to you.  He not only reveals Himself, but He gives Himself to you.  Into your ears, and into your mouth, into your heart, and into your body and life.  He gathers you to Himself, in much the way that Kelvin, Nicholai, and Nathaniel will take their newborn infants into their arms, and hold them with tender love, and protect them with the strength that God provides, in the months ahead.

Your dear Lord Jesus welcomes and receives you as a little child, a babe in arms.  And He gently schools you in the way of life.  He teaches you to live, and how to live, by giving you Himself and His Life.  He saves you from yourself and from all your good intentions.  He saves you from your wretched thoughts, your divided heart, and your body of death, by revealing His Father to you, by pouring out His Spirit upon you, and by giving you His own holy Body and precious Blood.

He washes you with His Word of the Gospel; He clothes you with His own Righteousness and Holiness, His Innocence and Blessedness; and He feeds you like a baby at your mother’s breast.

Don’t try harder to work for any of this.  But do come and rest yourself here in the Liturgy of the Lord.  Taste and see that He is good.  For all things in heaven and on earth have been handed over to Christ Jesus by the Father, and here He hands them over to you by the Ministry of the Gospel.  Eat, drink, and be at Peace, and find your Sabbath Rest here in the Body of Christ, given for you.

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

02 July 2017

Not Peaceful Coexistence, But a Sword that Divides

Over the past few weeks, you have heard how the Lord Jesus sent His Apostles to make disciples of all nations, beginning from Jerusalem and Judea, and proceeding, through the ages, to the ends of the earth.  He sent them to preach repentance and forgiveness in His Name, to catechize and baptize with His Word, and to bear His Holy Cross as those who follow Him are also called to do.  To be a disciple of this Lord Jesus Christ is to hear and heed His Word, to learn from His teaching and example, to live by faith in His promises, and to live in love according to His Commandments.

He is certainly not unaware of the challenges and difficulties confronting His servants on earth, His ministers and His disciples.  Nor is it simply that He has known and warned you ahead of time.  But He Himself has borne the Cross and suffered hardship, grief, and pain on your behalf.

It is simply a fact that, if you are a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, then you will have tribulation in the world, and you will bear His Cross:  Not peace on earth, but a sword that severs and divides.

It is a hard Word that Jesus speaks, by way of example, concerning your household and family; that Christ and His Word must take priority over your nearest and dearest kin.  Not that you are called to forsake or neglect your parents, spouse, or children; but as I said last week, you are to love them according to the Word of Christ, in deference to Him.  That can be painful at times, as you navigate prickly feelings; as you admonish adult children to repent and to be faithful; and as you deal with the anxiety of relatives who belong to different churches, or with the anguish of loved ones who have abandoned the church altogether.  Then there are those thorny issues, such as living together outside of marriage (fornication), various re-definitions of “marriage” altogether, contrary to the Word of God, and political debates over abortion (the murder of the unborn).

It is so tempting and so easy to compromise, to capitulate or to keep silent, instead of standing up and speaking up for what is good and right and true.  It is hard to fear, love, and trust in God above all things; to love your neighbors as yourself; and to forgive those who sin against you, especially when you are at odds over these matters of faith and life with the members of your own family.

But it gets worse.  While the Cross that is laid upon your family and your relationships is difficult and often painful, there is an even deeper and more demanding challenge that confronts you.  For the Word of Christ is a sharp two-edged Sword, which cuts you to the quick within yourself, even between your bones and your marrow.  It divides you from your fallen flesh, from the lusts of your heart, and from all the false beliefs of your mind, soul, and spirit.  It is really more like a surgeon’s scalpel than a barbarian’s broadsword.  For Jesus does not just hack away at you; He goes for the jugular, and He addresses the heart of the matter.  His Word is piercing, cutting you to the core.

So what the Lord Jesus is doing in this Gospel is preaching the first and greatest  Commandment, the number one Law, namely, that you are to have no other gods before Him.  None whatsoever.

It is a most exalted claim that Christ Jesus thus makes concerning Himself, indicating His true divinity and His eternal relationship with the Father.  And it is all the more pointed and poignant in view of His Incarnation, His Humiliation, His Holy Cross and Passion.  For all of your fear, love, and trust, your total allegiance, your faith and worship and obedience, and your entire life, all belong to this Crucified God.  You are called to follow Him, to be and to live like Him, and to find yourself in Him, in His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood like your own.

This Commandment brings the entire Law into focus, and it thus exposes your sin, condemns it for the idolatry it is, and rubs it in to makes it that much worse.  It makes your sin utterly sinful.  For it brings to light, not only your lack of faith in Christ, but also your covetous lust, greed, and selfishness for all manner of false gods and idols, by which you are trying to find your life on earth.

The Commandment of the Lord thus puts you to death; and to be clear, it cannot bring you to life.  Not because it is bad.  Far from it!  The Law of God is good and wise, holy and just.  But it cannot give you life, because it confronts and crucifies your sinful flesh, your sinful heart, your sinful body, soul, and spirit.  It condemns and puts you to death for your idolatry, which is the worst sort of adultery.  For you have joined yourself to other gods, although your true and rightful Spouse, your heavenly Bridegroom, the Lord who is a faithful Husband to you, is the only true God.

By your idolatry and unbelief, by your neglect of what you are called and commanded to do, and by your disobedience and outright rebellion, you have forsaken your marriage to the Lord Jesus, and you have married yourself to sin and death.  And for all of this, the Law condemn you to die.

It is at that painful point that you begin to realize the purpose for that Sword which Jesus brings.  For in cutting you to the quick and putting you to death, He cuts you off and separates you from all of your adulterous idols, beginning with your self.  In this way He engages an “intervention” of the highest magnitude, whereby you lose your life and everything else in this perishing world.

But of course that is not yet the end of the story.  Your true and heavenly Bridegroom is not after vengeance; He seeks reconciliation.  He is not out to rob you of life, but to grant you the true, divine, eternal life that none of your other lovers could ever give, because it is found only in Him.

He is zealous for you, because He loves you, and He desires that you have life in Him.  To that end, He suffers the mighty Sword of the Law to be turned upon Himself, in order to put sin and death to death within Himself, within His Body of flesh and blood.

Ironically, His suffering of this judgment and condemnation of the Law against your sins is also His fulfillment and perfection of the entire Law.  That is to say, He suffers and dies with perfect faith in His God and Father, and in wholehearted love for His Father, for you, and for all of His neighbors from the beginning to the end of the world.  His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross is not the suicidal despair of a heartbroken Romeo, but the heroic Love of the one true God, who bears your sins to atone for you by His blood; who dies your death to set you free from death.

The Law is thus wholly satisfied and perfectly fulfilled in Christ Jesus.  And to be sure, His faith and love are not for nothing.  His faith is not disappointed, and His love is not wasted.  For the One who laid down His life in love for you, receives it back again in His Resurrection from the dead.

And having gone to the uttermost of your sin and death, in order to redeem you from the bondage of your idolatry and unbelief, He brings you back, in and with Himself, into newness of life.

So the Life of Christ is truly yours, now and forever.  Even now, in the midst of death, it is yours.

To be sure, He does not bring or promise peace on earth, not as the world understands peace and tries to find it via compromise.  The Lord’s bumper sticker is not “coexist” or “live and let live.”  But what He has done, at the cost of His own Body and Life, with His own flesh and blood, is to reconcile you and all the world to His God and Father.  Which is to say that God is at peace with you for Christ Jesus’ sake.  And you have peace with God in the same Lord, Jesus Christ, by His grace, through faith in His Gospel, which is the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

It is that peace with God — which the world neither knows nor could it ever give — it is that peace with God in Christ which enables you to be at peace with all your neighbors, and even with your enemies.  Not by way of compromise, but with the courage of Christ and His forgiveness of sins.  Not in the fear of man, but in the fear of God, with which you also love and trust in Him.

The fact is, there will always be those who hate you in this body and life on earth.  Actually, most of the world will hate you for Christ Jesus’ sake, and it will do its best in countless ways to hurt you, even to kill you.  If it can manage nothing else, it will shame you and discredit you.  If that is not the case, then examine yourself and your life, and ask yourself whether you are living as a Christian, as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, or whether anyone would even be able to guess.

Repent of your unfaithfulness.  Be strong and courageous, and confess your Lord Jesus with your words and with your life, with your choices and decisions, with your priorities and activities.

Are you worried that, if you take your faith and confession of Christ seriously and allow His Word to shape your life, then the world will think poorly of you, and your neighbors will respond with animosity or ridicule?  Well, don’t worry.  They surely will.  You have the Lord’s Word on it!

But no one in the world can rob you of your life in Christ.  The world cannot destroy your peace with God.  Nor can the world take away the new household and family to which you now belong as a child of God.  For you are His beloved little one, and He shall preserve you and save you in Christ Jesus.  Has He not given you His Name in the waters of your Holy Baptism?  Yes, He has.

It is in His Name that He sends to you His Prophets and Apostles, His pastors and teachers, His preachers of His Word.  And if that Word is a Sword that divides you from yourself, from your sin, from your idols, and from the whole world, it also gives you the Spirit and Life of Christ Jesus.

In the hearing of His Word, in the receiving of His sent ones, you hear and receive Christ Jesus Himself.  And in Him you hear and receive His own God and Father as your own.  And in His Name, His Gospel grants you His Righteousness; which is really to say that His Resurrection is also now yours, along with His Life Everlasting in body and soul.

It may seem strange to you (and to others) that your faith and life as a Christian disciple begins, not with your doing, but with the receiving of those whom He sends to you, and with the hearing of what they preach to you in His Name.  But so it does.  That is where your life in Christ begins.  And so does it continue to depend upon the hearing and receiving of the Gospel in His Name.

And from there, as you have received, so also give.  As you have heard, so also confess.  As you are a child of God in Christ Jesus, so live to the glory of His Name as a member of His family.

In particular, consider what this means for your relationships with all those many others who bear the same Name as you do, by God’s grace, as Christian disciples of Jesus.

Look around you at the congregation that surrounds you.  This is the household and family of your God and Father.  This is the house and home of your heavenly Bridegroom.  These people around you, who are catechized and baptized in the Name of the same Lord, they are your brothers and sisters in Christ.  They are children of the same Father.  Some of them are your fathers and mothers in the faith; others are your sons and daughters in Christ.  Together, they are your family, not for this life only, but for the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting, forever and ever, amen.

Therefore, beloved of Christ, love one another.  Care for one another.  Forgive each other.  And serve one another with whatever means the Lord provides.  If you have but a cup of cold water, by all means, share it with the one who is thirsty.  And if you have more, do more with it.

Let neither any sin of yours nor any sin against you divide this household and family of Christ Jesus.  For His Word does not divide His Church but unites her with Himself, as one Body and Bride in Him, in that Peace which surpasses human understanding, which the world cannot give, but which is yours by His forgiveness of sins.  For He was divided in His sacrificial death, His blood from His flesh, His soul from His body, that you should be made whole in His Resurrection.

Here then, by His grace within His Church, whatever has been broken is repaired.  Enmity and animosity are healed by His reconciling love.  Whatever has been wrong is made right in His Resurrection.  He speaks and bestows His peace upon you; not as the world attempts to fabricate, but perfect Peace with God in heaven, true Peace with Himself in the newness of the Holy Spirit, and authentic peace with each other through His free and full forgiveness of all your trespasses.

And for you, His beloved disciple, He pours out His Cup of Salvation, the New Testament in His Blood; so that you do not lose His Reward, but by His Cross you enter into heaven with Him.

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