27 August 2017

What Do You Think of Jesus?

Last Sunday, in the story of the Canaanite woman, you heard the first decisive movement of Jesus our Lord toward Gentile territory.  In the Gospel then, He approached the regions of Tyre and Sidon — well-known for their pagan idolatry — and there He was confronted with the outstanding faith of a Gentile woman who sought His help as the Messiah.

Well, the coming of our Lord into Gentile territory continues this morning, as Jesus brings the Twelve Disciples to Caesarea Philippi.  Ironically, this location is now best known as the place of St. Peter’s great confession of Christ, and rightly so.  But just as Tyre and Sidon were an odd place to find such great faith as that of the Canaanite woman, so does Caesarea Philippi seem like the last place one would ever expect to hear such a bold confession of faith.  Of course, it should be understood that Christians are in fact called to confess Christ in the context of a hostile world.

As far as Caesarea Philippi is concerned, it was founded on the site of a cave (or grotto) used for the worship of the Greek god Pan.  For that was reason, it was first known as “Panias.”  It became “Caesarea Philippi” when King Herod’s son, Philip, established a larger city and erected a temple for the worship of Caesar.  There was, in addition, a temple for the pagan god Baal.

This was Gentile territory at its worst: a regular smorgasbord of false gods and paganism.  Located at the northern-most tip of Galilee, it was a long way from Jerusalem and the Temple of Yahweh.  Yet — even though surrounded on all sides by false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice — Jesus chooses this place, Caesarea Philippi, for the groundbreaking ceremony of His House.

Here He lays the foundation for His Church, a new House of Israel.  As He once chose Abram, calling him from the land of pagans, changing his name to Abraham (“the father of many nations”), and raising up a multitude of people from his seed, so does He now choose Simon, changing his name to Peter (“the rock”), and establishing the Church upon the ministry of his confession.

And just as the Lord once chose Jacob, changing his name to Israel, and raising up the Twelve Tribes of Israel from his twelve sons, so does He now choose Simon Peter, as the leader and spokesman of the Twelve Apostles, to be the first among those spiritual patriarchs of the new Israel, the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church of one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now, if we simply consider the balance of the New Testament Scriptures, we can readily see the use that Christ Jesus makes of Simon Peter already in the Holy Gospels, and then especially in the Acts of the Apostles.  He is identified specifically as the “first” of the Apostles, and his place as such is demonstrated by the fact that he always speaks on behalf of the others, both to Jesus and to the crowds.  Whenever a select group of the disciples is mentioned, St. Peter is among them.

In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter remains the most prominent of the Twelve.  In point of fact, he absolutely dominates the first half of the book.  He was in charge of replacing Judas with Matthias.  He gave the sermon on the Day of Pentecost, when three-thousand souls were added to the Church.  He healed a lame beggar in the Temple gate, and then followed this miracle with another sermon.  The crowds sought him out for healing.  He boldly answered the questions and charges of the Jewish authorities, following Christ and obeying God rather than man.  Along with St. John, he confirmed the Church in Samaria with the laying on of hands.  And then, perhaps most important of all, he began the Gentile mission when he was sent by God to the Roman Cornelius.

Beyond all doubt, our Lord was clearly at work among His people in a most powerful way in the preaching and miracles of Simon Peter.  And so does the work of Christ Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer continue to the present day, even to the close of the age.  For He speaks and acts through the preaching and ministry of those who are called and sent in His Name and stead.

As St. Luke indicates in his words to Theophilus, his Gospel account was the beginning of all that Jesus did and taught, and the Acts of the Apostles is a record of all that Jesus Himself continued to do and teach.  Christ has not left His people on their own to fend for themselves.  He continues to build and support His Church through His Apostolic Ministry — from Peter and Paul, James and John, to your pastors in this time and place.

But at all times and in all places, throughout the history of His Church on earth, the one decisive factor remains ever and always the same as it was at Caesarea Philippi.

Which is to say that Jesus cuts right to the chase in this Holy Gospel with a single question, the line by which you and all people are measured in the presence of God.  It is the one, all-important question which makes all the difference in this world and the next: What do you think of Jesus?

The foundation, heart, and center of the faith, and of the entire Christian life, is Christ Jesus, the Son of God and “Son of Man.”  Who is He, and what has He done?  And what does this “Jesus” mean to you?  That is the question He puts to you today.  That is the Question (period).  And the answer is crucial for everything pertaining to godliness, righteousness, and everlasting life.

Of course, you can find all sorts of answers to the question, and some of them sound pretty good.  Those who thought that Jesus, the Son of Man, was a Prophet of Yahweh were surely thinking well of Him.  And many today, as well, have nothing but good things to say about Jesus: “Oh, he was a good man, a wise man, a pious Jew; a deep thinker and profound teacher; a real humanitarian; a genuine social justice warrior, and a righteous liberator of the oppressed; a true prophet of God.”

The trouble is, both now and then, that none of these glowing accolades is sufficient.  None of them cut the mustard.  They all have grains of truth, but they all miss the real significance.

As for St. Peter, so also for you and everyone else: You do not know and confess Jesus for Who and What He truly is, except by the grace and blessing of God the Father.  You do not and cannot “choose” to believe in Him, nor make any “decisions for Jesus.”  The best that anyone might do on his own is perhaps to see Jesus as “a prophet.”  But genuine faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is granted only by the Father through the Holy Spirit.  And as Jesus says to His disciples elsewhere, “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.”

Ironically, the correct Answer is already implicit in the Question, for those who have ears to hear.  That is to say, when Jesus refers to Himself as the “Son of Man,” He thereby identifies Himself as the Christ, the incarnate Son of the Living God.  Because the designation, “Son of Man,” is far more significant than most people realize.  It is not just a way of saying that Jesus was a true human being.  It is rather a rich, descriptive, theological title, invested with deep meaning already in the Old Testament Prophets, especially the Prophets Ezekiel and Daniel.

As the Son of Man, Jesus is One who has great authority: He teaches with authority; He performs miracles with authority; He has the authority to forgive sins; and He has the authority to send others in His Name and stead.  And yet, the Son of Man has Himself been sent by another — by God the Father — to follow the way of the Cross for the sake of all mankind.

He is the Son of Man because He is the God who suffers in the flesh on behalf of all the children of men.  His suffering and death are not His defeat, but His victory over all the enemies of God and man: the devil, the world, and sinful flesh.  So the Son of Man is also, most decisively, the One who will return upon the clouds with power and great glory, as the Judge of the living and the dead, in order to gather the righteous to Himself as the beloved children of His Father in heaven.

Ultimately, the Confession of Christ, such as Peter makes by the grace of God, is a confession that absolutely nothing has any meaning or purpose apart from Christ Jesus.  He is the Bottom Line, not only for Simon Peter, but for you and for all people.  For the Church of all times and places, and so also for Emmaus Congregation here and now, Christ alone is the only Answer.

No one knows God the Father apart from Christ the Son; and no one receives the Holy Spirit apart from Christ who sends Him.  No one has any real significance or lasting purpose apart from Christ, who gave His life and shed His blood to save all people.  Even Holy Scripture, and the Ministry of preaching and the Sacraments, would mean nothing at all if they were not the Word and Ministry of Christ.  Nor does the Church have any true identity apart from Christ, who is her Lord and her heavenly Bridegroom.  Nothing that you have, and nothing that you do, has any value apart from Him.  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.

Nothing means anything without Christ.  And by the same token, as a word of encouragement, nothing will ever be able to overcome Christ Jesus or His Church.  Not even the gates of hades.

This phrase, the gates of hades, is a poetic description of death.  And those gates wait for you and all your loved ones, don’t they?  Such is your inheritance as a sinful child of sinful Adam and Eve.  There’s nothing you can do to stop death.  Even at your best, you cannot put off the inevitable.

The fact of your mortality, therefore, seems an insurmountable fate, and of yourself it surely is.  Yet, today you have the sure and certain promise of Jesus, the Christ, that even death is powerless against His Church, because He has conquered death and the grave once and for all.  For all those who are in Christ Jesus, who died and rose again, the gates of hades have become the entrance into Paradise.  For everyone who lives and abides within His Body, the Church, death from this world is but a doorway to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting of body and soul in Him.

How tragic, then, for those who pass through the gates of hades without Christ.  Saddest of all, because He has already purchased them to be His own, atoned for their sins, and redeemed them, by the shedding of His holy, precious Blood.  But for those who do not know Him — or worse, who reject Him and turn their backs on Him — there remains nothing but eternal death and hell.

But for those who are in Christ, there is nothing but life and salvation.  For those who trust in Him, there is no condemnation, no eternal death.  All has been freely forgiven, with no strings attached.  Those who are baptized into Christ have already passed through the gates of hades with Him, and so have a share in His Resurrection.  And those who commune with Him, who eat His Body and drink His Blood in faith and with thanksgiving, are united with Him as sons of God the Father.

So it is that, whether you live or die, your life is in Christ Jesus.  While you live, therefore, confess Him as your Savior and your God: With your life, with your own words of faith and love, and with the language of the Church’s Liturgy and catechesis.  So also confess Him with your works and with all that God has given into your hands.  In all these ways and means, you join with Simon Peter in confessing Christ Jesus; and so do you live with him and the other Apostles, safe and secure within the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church, the House that Jesus has built.

Living within that strong House, established on the solid Rock of His Gospel, wait upon the Lord for the coming of that great and glorious day when you shall stand with all the saints, gathered together forever around the Lamb upon His throne.  To Him be the glory forever and ever!

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

20 August 2017

The Hunger of Faith Is Fed in the House of the Lord

For the past few months, we have been hearing examples of our Lord’s heartfelt compassion for the lost and helpless sheep who have no shepherd.  We saw that deep compassion of Christ our Good Shepherd especially in His Feeding of the Five Thousand two weeks ago.  His tender mercy toward the people and His power to feed them are indicative of His identity as the Messiah.

According to the Word and will of God, Israel should likewise have demonstrated that sort of mercy and compassion toward its neighbors in the world; and so should the mercy and compassion of our Lord be evident in the life of His Church today.  That is the main point, for example, in the Word of our Lord from His Prophet this morning.  The Lord will gather foreigners to Himself by calling them to His Church, His Holy Mountain, and giving them joy within His House of Prayer.  As He restores the exiles of Israel, so does He deal kindly with the nations through His people.

But at this point, the Son of David, Christ Jesus — the Savior of Israel — has met with rejection from even His own people, from the very ones He has come to gather to Himself and save.  So He withdraws from the Scribes and Pharisees, and He goes to the Gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon.

Now, Tyre and Sidon are familiar names in Holy Scripture, but not popular ones.  They are known especially as pagan territory.  Sidon, for example, was the home of wicked Queen Jezebel in the Old Testament.  Yet, it was another woman from that same territory who received miraculous food and healing from the Prophet Elijah.  And it was the king and craftsmen from Tyre who helped King David build his royal palace, and who helped his son, King Solomon, build the Temple in Jerusalem.  Today, the Son of David comes to them, whose own Body is the true Temple of God.

The “Bread” of grace and mercy, life and salvation, which Jesus has given to the Jews, He now also gives to the Gentiles.  Which is good news, of course, for all of us — though I suspect that we may take it too easily for granted.  It was not always so obvious to the first Christians; the vast majority of them were Jews, and it was difficult for them at first to welcome the Gentiles into the Church of Christ, or to know how that should work and what it should look like in practice.

Nevertheless, while it is true that “Salvation is from the Jews,” it is for both Jews and Gentiles alike.  For the Salvation of Christ Jesus is not only “the Glory of His people Israel,” but also “a Light to lighten the Gentiles.”  Sadly, many of the Jews rejected that grace and glory of God.  Yet many of the Gentiles were hungry for the mercy and salvation of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ.

That hunger is vividly portrayed in this Holy Gospel.  Indeed, the Canaanite woman is a beautiful example of those very “stones” that begin to “cry out” when the people of God do not.  And as many of the Jews rejected the Son of David, including especially the Scribes and Pharisees, the Lord’s mercy was extended to those who had been nothing: to pagans, dogs, and sinners like you.

The Canaanites were among the most hated and despised of Israel’s enemies, the descendants of those who were driven out of the Promised Land by Joshua and the other Old Testament Judges.  The very name, “Canaanite,” is practically synonymous with paganism, Baal-worship, and hostility against the people of Yahweh.  So among these people is the last place one might expect to find such great faith in Jesus as that which is demonstrated and confessed by this woman.

But of course, the hunger of this Canaanite woman is quite specific and concrete.  Her great faith and her persistent cries for mercy are driven by her desperate need; just as you must sometimes hit rock bottom before you seek the Lord where He is to be found.  She turns to Him for mercy and compassion, that her daughter might be healed of her demon possession.  There’s nothing abstract or generic about her situation.  Surely some of you moms can identify with the anxiety of a mother for her child.  But all of you have similar needs and similar hungers in your own body and life.

So the hunger of her need is easy to comprehend.  But how does she come to have such faith and confidence in Christ Jesus, by which she seeks the food that she needs from His hand?

St. Mark supplies the answer in his Gospel, when he indicates that the woman had heard some news about Jesus.  It was that good news, that Word of Christ, which called forth such great faith in her heart.  And so she clings to that Gospel, to that Word which had called her and brought her to Jesus in the first place; that good news which identified Him as the “Lord” and “Son of David.”  To that Gospel she clings desperately for help, in spite of His initially off-putting response.

God grant you such a faith, and such a hunger for Jesus in your own heart!  A faith that clings to the Gospel and refuses to let go, even when Christ Himself seems to be ignoring you and rejecting your fervent pleas for help.  That you should have a faith so hungry for His grace and His healing forgiveness, that you would argue and debate with the Lord Himself until He feeds you.

Now, English translations typically state that the woman “knelt” or “bowed down” before Jesus in her second attempt to gain His help.  More accurately, she prostrated herself on the ground at His feet.  Which is to say that this Gentile woman rightly worshiped Jesus as her Lord and God.  And this worship, too, like her persistent prayer, was a confession of her great faith in Christ Jesus.

But how, then, shall we understand the troublesome reply of Jesus to this Canaanite woman?

At first, there is only silence.  In response to this poor woman’s fervent prayer, Jesus does not answer a word.  He turns His back on her; He keeps on walking; and He seems to ignore her request.  His behavior is shocking, because we know our Lord to be the God of tender mercy and compassion.  How many others has He helped in similar situations?  So why not here and now?

But aren’t you also sometimes confronted with a stony silence in response to your prayers?  And then it would seem that even God has turned His back on you.  The blood, sweat, and tears of your prayer bring no consolation or reprieve, and so you cannot help but wonder, Where is Jesus now?

What, then, shall you do?  Well, like that Canaanite woman, go on clinging to the Gospel.  Ignore the silence, and trust the Word that you have already heard.  Like a little child who simply will not go away, hang on to Jesus, and pester Him with your prayer.  Call upon the Name of the Lord, as the Liturgy has taught you: “Lord, have mercy!  Christ, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!”

Before long, the Disciples are moved to intercede for the woman.  Their request that Jesus should send her away implies that He should do something for her, even if only to get her to leave them alone.  But then, what is worse than His previous silence, there is apparent rejection: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel,” He says.  And so, it would seem, He is not for her.

What might have gone through that poor woman’s mind?  What did she hear between the lines in His answer?  “This Jesus might be the Savior of others, but apparently not for someone like me.”  And how often have you felt the same way?  That Jesus is for others, but evidently not for you.

And yet, it is at that very point when the woman falls on her face before the Lord.  With contrite humility, she worships Him.  Shutting out the “no” she might have heard, she remembers only the “yes” that she has heard from His Gospel.  With hungry faith she pleads again, “Lord, help me!”

Then comes the final blow, the utter humiliation: “The Bread of Christ is not for the dogs, but for the children of His House.”  Such is the crushing condemnation of the Law, which turns the poor woman into a dog and pushes her down from the Table.  Just as the Law of God reduces you and all your pride to nothing more than dust and ashes.  You can almost hear the slamming of the door.

Where, then, shall you turn?  What more can you do or say in response to that Word of the Law?  Shall a dog raise its whimpering head before the Almighty God, and go on begging for Bread from His Table?  How should you stand firm in the face of such words from the Lord Himself?

Rare is the faith that could.  And yet, by the grace of God, the Canaanite woman did stand firm.

In her reparteé with Jesus, this woman is given the opportunity to demonstrate and confess with her lips the great faith of her heart.  In fact, she not only confesses that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, but she also worships Him as her Lord and Master, and she expresses confidence that, even as a “dog,” she is already in His House and waiting at the foot of His Table for crumbs of bread.

The persistence of this woman recalls the story of Jacob, Israel himself, who wrestled through the night with the Angel of Yahweh, refusing to let go until the Lord would bless him with His Name.

Israel did receive the blessing he desired; and in the end, of course, so did the Canaanite woman.  According to His mercy, the Son of David granted her request: “Be it done for you as you believe,” He said.  And at the Word of Jesus, the woman’s daughter was healed; the demon was cast out.

Thus do we also discover that this Canaanite woman actually is one of the “lost sheep of the House of Israel,” whom Jesus now brings home to Himself.  Not a child of Abraham according to the flesh, but a sheep of the same Good Shepherd, gathered by His Word into His flock.

This Holy Gospel thus fulfills, not only the Prophecy of Isaiah that you have heard this morning, but also the earlier, similar story of the Gentile Centurion.  Remember how Jesus was approached by that man, who prayed that his servant might be healed.  In that case, Jesus declared that many Gentiles would come from East and West to sit down at the Table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  And sure enough, today this Canaanite woman has taken her seat at that very Table with those Jewish Patriarchs.  Having prayed for crumbs, she has been granted the full Feast of Christ Jesus, the Bread of His forgiveness and the gift of His eternal life through faith in His Gospel.

In this woman Jesus demonstrates that He is Himself the new Temple of a new Israel, the new “House of Prayer” for all people, including both Jews and Gentiles.  All who believe and trust in Christ Jesus are welcomed and fed at His Table.  For the Lord is merciful to all who call upon Him, to all who believe in Him through His Word, who confess with their lips the faith of their hearts.

In the mercy and compassion of Christ, the hunger of their faith is fed in the House of the Lord.

Which means for you, as well, that you need not be content with scraps that fall from your Master’s Table.  As you have been taught to pray that our Father in heaven would feed you with daily bread, you may be certain that He will indeed provide you with all that you need and far more, for this body and life, and for the life everlasting.  For you are invited to feast with Him as a beloved son or daughter at His Table, even as He feeds you once again this morning with the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, King David’s greater Son, who is indeed your own dear Savior and your God.

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

14 August 2017

Resurrection and Life in the Body of St. Mary's Son

Let us arise and go to a city of Judah, and enter a priestly house, and rejoice in God our Savior.

And let us do so on this evening in the remembrance of His mercy, with thanksgiving for His maidservant, the Blessed Virgin Mary, by whom He has become one with us, flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood.

She is, with us, a member of His Church; and in a special way she is an icon of that Royal Bride of Christ, that Holy Mother of God’s sons and daughters.  In giving thanks for His grace and mercy upon her, we give thanks for His mercy upon generation after generation of those who fear Him.

Because He is conceived and born of the Woman, this new Eve, St. Mary, He is conceived and born for us, the sons and daughters of the first Adam and the first Eve; that we might receive the new birth of water, Word, and Spirit, and the adoption of sons of His own God and Father.

So has Christ accomplished for all the children of men, first of all by becoming like us in all ways, save only without sin, and then also by His Cross and Resurrection in His own human body of flesh and blood like ours.  Born under the Law, and submitting Himself to the Law on our behalf, He has kept and fulfilled the Law for all of us, in perfect faith and holy love.  Precisely in that same faith and love, He has suffered the entire judgment and full punishment of the Law, the shame and humiliation of our sin and death, and has thereby atoned for our sin, defeated our death, destroyed our enemy, the devil, redeemed us for Himself, and reconciled us to God forever and ever.

All of this He has done, once and for all — for St. Mary and St. Elizabeth; for Father Abraham and all his children; for Adam and Eve and all their children — and therefore, also, for you.  It is an accomplished fact in His own flesh and blood, in His crucified and risen Body, in His own Person, in the Kingdom of His God and Father, and even here and now within His Church on earth.

It is already true.  It has been accomplished, and it is finished, complete, perfected.  It is solid as a rock, never to be undone.  So tightly has the Lord bound Himself to you by His Incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and so tightly are His Cross and Resurrection united in His Body of flesh and blood like yours, that, even though you are so small and weak and poor, lowly and mortal, dying and wasting away a little more each day, yet, by your Baptism in His Name, you are also resurrected and ascended in and with Christ Jesus, the Son of God and St. Mary’s Son.  In Him, indeed, your life is already hidden with God, seated on high in the heavenly places, exalted far above all angels and archangels, above the cherubim and seraphim and the whole heavenly host.

But you surely do not see or feel or experience that heavenly glory and eternal reality for the time being here and now.  It is by faith in the Word of God, which you hear, and not by human sight.  What you see and feel and experience in your life on earth is hunger, want, and need; sickness and death; hardship and pain; ridicule and persecution; disappointment and despair; suffering and sorrow within and without.  You bear the reproach of your neighbor and the world, the assaults and accusations of the devil, the humiliation and shame of your own sin and guilt and faults and errors.

You hear that your sins are freely and fully forgiven, and yet, you still suffer many of their consequences.  Not all of them, but many.

You hear that the Lord is with you, that He loves you, and that His gracious favor is upon you; yet, you often feel lonely and unloved, out of favor, and forgotten.

You hear of the great blessings of Christ Jesus, your Savior; but, as those blessings come to you by and with and through His Cross, they are often difficult to bear.

You hear that God feeds and clothes you and preserves your life, but you still have to manage and juggle your finances, and work for a living, and pay your bills; and day by day you find yourself slowing down, getting tired, and sometimes getting sick, wearing out and wasting away.

Against all of this harsh experience, the Church in heaven and on earth sets the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, crucified, risen, and ascended in our human flesh and blood.  He is the true Man, conceived and born of Mary, who is our sister and our mother; and He, the Lord Jesus, her Son, our Brother, has been tempted in all the ways that you are tempted.  He has suffered in all the ways that you suffer.  He has borne all of your sins in His own body like yours, and He has carried all the sins of those who trespass against you, so that by His stripes and holy wounds you are healed.

He has shed His blood for you, for your redemption and atonement, and He has suffered and died in your place, on your behalf.  He has gone through hell on your account and for your benefit.

And God has raised this same Jesus, the Son of St. Mary, from the dead.  This One who humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death, God has highly exalted far above all heavens, and He has bestowed on Him the Name which is above every name.

That is why, for example, we make the crucifix an exquisite work of art, finally crafted and often of polished metal.  It is why we use the finest vessels we can for the Holy Communion, and adorn the Church in splendor, and reverence the crucified Lord with deliberate ceremonies.  It is why we clothe the newly baptized in white garments, even though they may be crying or screaming or messing themselves as we do so.  It is why we clothe the ministers of Christ with colorful and elaborate vestments, though they are mortal men, poor miserable sinners like anyone else.  It is why we sing sturdy hymns of substance and great confidence, even in the face of sin and death.

And it is why we say of this young girl from Nazareth, that she is rightly called and truly is the Mother of God.  For her dear Son, the blessed Fruit of her sanctified womb, even as a tiny Fetus hidden within her body, is the very Lord, the true and only God in the flesh.

In the case of all these things, with our lips and with our lives, we confess before the world that the Lord has had regard for the humble state of His servants.  We confess that in His great mercy He has done great things for us; that with His mighty arm, with His hands stretched out in death upon the Cross, He has done truly mighty deeds for us.  That He has saved us.

With St. Mary, with St. Elizabeth, and with all the faithful saints of God in heaven and on earth, we exalt the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior.  Which is to exalt and rejoice in the Son of Mary, for He is true God, and she is the Mother of our Lord.

In remembering her Dormition on this day — that is, her falling asleep in Jesus, in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection — the Church rejoices and confesses that St. Mary’s Son is not the God of the dead, but of the living.  And in giving thanks to God for dear St. Mary, we believe, teach, and confess that her Son, Jesus, has fulfilled all that God has spoken and promised.

In considering that she who was humble has been exalted, in counting her blessed among women, we confess the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, our Lord, and count ourselves also exalted in Him.  So do we give thanks and sing, even in the midst of lowliness and grief, in the midst of darkness, burdened by sin, threatened by death and destruction.

And even in the midst of all that assails us, we do not fear.

We trust and confess that, just as the Son of God was conceived and born of St. Mary by His Word and Holy Spirit, so have you also been conceived and born of His Church, as sons of God by grace through faith in Christ — by the same Word and Spirit that came to the Blessed Virgin.

We trust and confess that, just as the Son of God became flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood, and dwelt within St. Mary’s body, so does the same Son of God with the same flesh and blood come to dwell in your body in the Holy Communion.

As you eat His Body and drink His Blood — and as you have been united with Him, in His Cross and Resurrection, by your Holy Baptism — so are His Resurrection and Ascension truly yours.

And truly they are St. Mary’s, also, who lived and died by faith in the Word that He spoke to her.

For the Lord our God, Christ Jesus, Mary’s Son, our Brother in the flesh and the Savior of us all, He feeds the hungry with good things, in the remembrance of His mercy, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

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

13 August 2017

By the Water with the Word of Christ

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.  Thus, by His Word and Holy Spirit, the Lord called forth the Light out of the darkness, and out of the waters He brought forth life.  Not only that, but He determined and established the boundaries and purposes of the waters throughout His good creation.

When God condemned the unbelieving world through the waters of the Flood, He also brought believing Noah and his family safely through the waters in His mercy.  And when He drowned hardhearted Pharaoh and all his host in the waters of the Red Sea, the Lord led His People Israel through those same waters on dry ground.  So did He also lead them through the waters of the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

And in the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, immediately after He had come up from the water, there came again the Spirit of God moving over the water as a Dove, and the voice of the Father from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”  He thereby sanctified the Jordan and all water to be a salutary flood and a rich and full washing away of sins.

In each case God was pointing to the salvation that He has now accomplished by the Cross and Resurrection of the incarnate Son.  For it is by your Baptism into His dying and rising that you are re-created in the washing of the water with His Word.  Your old, unbelieving Adam is drowned and destroyed, yet you cross through the waters with Jesus into His Church, and within that holy Ark of Christendom you are kept in safety in His Word and faith, unto the Life everlasting.

By the authority of His Word, His command and His promise, Christ Jesus has made you a child of His own dear God and Father through Baptism in His Name.  So also by His Word and Spirit, He continues to nourish you in body and soul with His very own Body and Blood, as surely as He fed the Five Thousand with a few loaves and fishes.

It is immediately after that feeding that Jesus sends His disciples on their way, within the boat which is for us a sign of His Church, through the water to the other side.  So does He call you to pass through death into life, through the waters of your Holy Baptism into His Resurrection and His Life.  The crowds who would crown Him as their earthly king are sent home, but He Himself ascends the mountain to pray.  For He is your merciful and great High Priest, who has risen from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father, where He has prepared a place for you in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours, and where He ever lives to make intercession for you.

But even as He prays and intercedes (for them as for you), His disciples find themselves in the midst of a fierce storm, fighting a strong, contrary wind throughout the night.  The water rages against them, as towering waves toss them about and threaten to capsize their little fishing boat.

With or without nautical experience, is it not easy for you to envision the scenario?  And do you not face storms of your own kind, in which the wind and waves are set against you in the world?

You may have some sympathies for Simon Peter, in particular, as you think of him out there on the water.  Sure, he had asked Jesus to call him out there, and he stepped out of the boat onto the waves.  But what had he gotten himself into?  And what predicaments do you find yourself in?

Perceiving the turmoil all about him, and the violence of the wind, Peter lost faith in the power of his Lord.  The storm loomed larger in his eyes and in his mind than the Son of God, and the waves of doubt came crashing down upon him.  Turning his attention away from the Word of Jesus to the chaos and confusion all around him, he began to sink.

Yet, Christ does not allow the weakness of Peter’s faith to bring His Apostle to ruin.  Nor does the certainty of your salvation depend on your ability to keep from doubting.  It rests entirely on Christ Jesus, His mercy, and His Word.  For the One who calls you is faithful; He will do as He says.

Bear that in mind, and cling to that sure and certain hope, as you are tossed about by the assaults and accusations of the devil, and as you are sometimes overcome by the scary, stormy world around you.  For you are surely no stronger or more faithful than Simon Peter.  And even though you know better — from the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, the promise of your Holy Baptism, the nourishment of the Lord’s Holy Supper, and His gracious providence of body and soul to the present day — how often don’t you succumb to doubt and fear and sink into hopeless despair.

Do not be surprised that the disciples were not ready for their Lord to approach them on the water.  Like you, they were still learning to expect His help.  In the meantime, seeing what they did not understand, they fell back into superstition and imagined they were seeing a ghost.

Little different from those who look upon the Church as just a bunch of superstitious nonsense: “A place to go on Sunday mornings, maybe — just in case — but certainly not a source of any real consolation.  I mean, come on!  A Pastor going on and on about things you can’t even see, and the hopeless repetition of rites and ceremonies too medieval in their origins to be of any substance.”

Such attitudes exist, yet, they are nothing more than crying “ghost!” at the presence of the Lord.

But Jesus catechizes you and all of His disciples to set aside such human ignorance and to rely upon the almighty power of His Word.  Because your fallen flesh is slow to believe, and it is difficult for you to take your reason captive in the obedience of faith, He comes to your rescue, as He did for the disciples on the Sea of Galilee.

Here, then, is the Gospel, cloaked in all the power of simplicity: Jesus “came to them.”  He saw their distress, and He moved to bring salvation, just as God so loved the world by giving His only Son.  This is the very essence of His grace.  The Lord, your Savior and your God, He comes to you in peace, though you are unable to come to Him or to save yourself even in the least.

Though the disciples were hindered by the power of the wind and frightened by the torment of the sea, Jesus is Lord of all that troubled them.  And so He came, “walking on the sea.”  St. Matthew states it so matter-of-factly, this amazing miracle of Christ Jesus.  Amazing, that is, to our reason and our finite senses.  But the reality of Jesus walking on the water is more certain than the “reality” of “simple water only,” which many of the disciples knew so well as fishermen by trade.

So it was that Peter exercised his faith in seeking to join the Lord on the sea, despite all that his past experience had taught him.  He did not question Jesus’ ability to stand on the waves.  Nor did he question Jesus’ ability to bid him do the same.  He asked only that his Lord should call him.

As St. Peter would later write in his second Epistle, by the Word of God the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and by water.  So, now, with a single Word of divine command from the lips of Jesus, the water does what water cannot do.  As though it were solid ground, it supports the feet of the Apostle as he walks out to his Lord.

And Peter trusted to begin with.  He had faith in the Word of Jesus, as demonstrated by the fact that he got down out of the boat onto the wild surface of the water.  That much is exemplary.  But otherwise, he did nothing remarkable.  Simon Peter merely walked, as he had no doubt been doing since childhood.  The miracle was not in Peter’s feet, but in the water upon which he walked, which, at the Word of its Creator and Lord, performed beyond its natural abilities.

In the same way, when the same Lord Jesus Christ commands this same Apostle and his fellows to baptize all the nations, water must again obey and do what “simple water only” cannot do.  Therefore, have no doubt, but firmly believe, that by your Baptism you are buried with Christ in His death, and you are raised up with Him as a beloved and well-pleasing child of God.

Peter walked out on the water to Jesus, and in the end he returned upon the water with Jesus.  For the Lord was with him and upheld him in adversity.  On his own he was nothing.  By his own power he could do nothing but sink.  Yet, by the power of the Lord, by the Lord’s choice and calling, Peter became the first Apostle of an Apostolic Ministry through which Christ Himself builds and sustains His Church on earth.  It stands upon the washing of the water with His Word, and it is enlivened with His Body and Blood, given and poured out by the hand of His servants.

In much the same way then, Jesus brought peace to His disciples with His calming, familiar voice, urging them to take courage and banish fear with the words: “It is I.”  There’s a lot contained in those few simple words.  This is no ghost out on the water, but the Man, Christ Jesus — their familiar Friend, their Teacher and table Companion, real and in the flesh.

But He is more!  For the Man who stands before them on the water is not only the Son of Mary, but also the Son of God, the great “I AM,” God Himself incarnate.  By His presence, the disciples may be certain that no longer are they at the mercy of the wind, but rather subject to the mercy of their Savior.  He whom winds and waves obey has not left them alone in the storm.

Nor has He left you.  For Christ Himself is with you always, as He has promised, most especially in His Word, and above all in the Sacrament of the Altar.  He is here with you, not in the unveiled brilliance of His majesty — which your sinful, mortal flesh could not bear — but hidden in the familiar elements of bread and wine, such as you might find in your own cupboards at home.

In these ordinary elements, by and with His Word, the Son of God gives you His Body to eat, which He once offered on the Cross for the forgiveness of all your sins; and He pours out the Cup of His own Blood, by which you are made alive, righteous, and holy before the Throne of God.

By this salutary feast you are strengthened and sustained upon the waters of your Baptism, lest you sink like Peter into despair and drown under crashing waves of doubt.

Consider that, although Peter did begin to sink, the Lord did not allow him to go under, but immediately stretched out His hand to save Peter in spite of himself.  So does Christ stretch out His hand to you, to lay hold of you in mercy and uphold you with His Body and His Blood.

Therefore, do not despair that you have not stood perfectly, but rather give thanks that you have not perished altogether, and ask for pardon wherever you have failed.  You thereby acknowledge the grace of the Lord who helps you, who forgives your sins and has mercy on your weakness.

Heed the good example of St. Peter, who cried out for salvation from his Lord Jesus Christ.  You, likewise, fall upon the mercy of your God and Father in Christ Jesus, and call upon the Lord to come quickly and help you.  For whoever calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.

Thus do the adversities of life, and even the doubts and waverings of your faith, drive you back to the Cross of Christ.  They force you to see the futility of trusting in anything else, and they lead you to cry out with Simon Peter: “Kyrie Eleison!  Lord, have mercy!  I cannot save myself.”

And as you confess your many sins, God remains faithful and just.  For Jesus’ sake He cleanses you from all unrighteousness.  And at the right time, according to His good and gracious will, Christ will come to claim you with His Bride, the Church.  He will deliver you forever from all the storms of sin and death, having safely kept you by the power of His Word.  As even now, within the boat with Jesus, the winds and waves have ceased, and there is Peace in His forgiveness.

Therefore, take courage, and do not be afraid.  For He Himself is with you in this place.

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

06 August 2017

By Every Word from the Mouth of God

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

If you are hungry, listen.  If you are thirsty, open your ears and hear.  Feast upon God’s Word.

Whatever your hunger may be, whatever your thirst may be, whatever your sickness of mind or body, heart or soul, what you need is the Word of God in Christ.  He is the One who feeds you.  He is the One who gives you to drink.  He is the One who heals all of your diseases.  He is the One who gives you life.  And all of this He does by His Word, by His precious Word of the Gospel.

It is because of sin that you go hungry.  It is with forgiveness that God feeds you.  It is because of sin that you get sick and die.  It is with forgiveness that God heals you and raises you up.

It is freely spoken, freely given, freely to be received.  It costs you nothing.  You cannot work for the Gospel.  You cannot earn it.  You cannot buy it.  You simply hear it and receive it by grace.

So listen.  Hear and receive what the Lord speaks to you by His grace.  And do not let anything get in the way of that.  Do not let anything detain you from hearing the Word of Christ.

Like those people who were so intent on Jesus that they followed Him on foot from their cities round about and spent the entire day hearing Him preach, in order to receive His gifts.  They were not the ones bellyaching for food.  It was the disciples who would send them away in order to eat.

But there is no need to be sent away.  When you are intent on Christ and the hearing of His Word, you shall be fed, and you will live.  For the preaching of His Word is the one thing truly needed.

Jesus gives you Life by His Word of the Gospel.  With divine compassion, by the tender mercies of His heart, He preaches, He feeds you, and He gives you life in Himself through His Word.

It is the same Word of God that your neighbor also needs, if he is to live.  And God desires that he live.  You, then, give your neighbor something to eat.  Feed your neighbor.  What you have heard, speak.  What you have received, share.  Do not keep it to yourself, but, as you have received, so also give.  By this means, your neighbor also lives by the grace of God in Christ.

As a child of God, baptized into Christ and fed by His life-giving Word, you have been called to love and serve your neighbor.  To do for others as Christ does for you, for both body and soul.

In your calling as a parent, a spouse, a child, a brother or sister — in whatever particular stations in life to which God has called you  — that is where you are given particular neighbors to love and to serve with whatever means the Lord has given into your hands and provided for this purpose.

Above all of their bodily needs and concerns, the thing that your neighbors need the most is the same Word of God in Christ by which you also live.  Speak that Word to them.  Confess that Word to them.  Pray and sing that Word with them and for them, that they may live with you in Christ.

It is to each of you fathers, in particular — including you, Kelvin — that the greatest responsibility falls for your family, for your wife, and for your children.  The women and children eat along with the men.  It is the men who are numbered in this story, and they in turn are to give and share the food with their wives and with their children.  So also for the orphans and widows.  You are to care for them and feed them as the Lord your God feeds and cares for you.

Above all, it is your chief responsibility to feed your family with the Word of God.  To speak both the Law and the Gospel to them, and to live by it yourself, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are not serving your family with the Word of God, then it makes no difference how much money you make, or how much money you have.  It makes no difference how well fed or well clothed your family may be.  If you are not serving them with the Word of God, then you are starving them to death, and you are killing them forever.  For they cannot live without the Word.

Wives and mothers, you are likewise called to speak that Word of God to your husband, to your children, and to your neighbors.  And children, you are to speak the Word of God to your parents and siblings, and to live according to His Word in all of your relationships and responsibilities.

Wherever God has placed you within the desert wilderness of life on this earth, that is where you are to hear and confess His Word, to listen and to learn it, and then also to speak it, to sing and to pray it, and to live according to it.  Indeed, that is your number one responsibility as a Christian.

The point is not that you should neglect the other duties and responsibilities of your office and stations in life.  By all means, do what God has given you to do in the world.  Serve your neighbor also in those capacities.  Do your job faithfully and well.  Do it conscientiously.  Pay your bills.  Take care of your home.  Do all those things.  But understand that your chief duty — within your own place — is to confess the Word of God; which requires that you first of all hear and learn it.

Whether you have a family or you’re on your own, hear and heed the Word of God every day; pray, praise, and give thanks.  Pray because you need the Lord.  Give attention to what He says for the same reason.  So also pray and intercede for His Church and for the whole world.  These are not meaningless pursuits.  These are the very things that Christians are given to do by God Himself.

Doing all of these things, fulfill your other duties and responsibility by faith in the Word of Christ — and in love for the Lord and for His people.  Do what you are given to do for God’s sake, and for your neighbor’s sake.  Do it in faith that God will take care of you, for you are His own child.

Those people who listened to Jesus all day were fed.  Not because they worried, nor because the disciples worried, but because the Lord Jesus fed them with His Word in both soul and body.  Likewise, when you give attention to the Word of God, you will not go without what you need.

Do not worry about your body, what you will wear, or what you will eat, or what you will drink.  Your Father knows that you need all of these things for the life that He has given you here on earth for the time being.  In His compassion, in His mercy, in His love for you — because He does love you — He will take care of you.  He feeds you.  He heals you.  He clothes you and shelters you.  He protects you from harm and danger in body and soul.

He does it all for Jesus’ sake, who in compassion has given Himself for you.  And for God it is a small thing to feed and clothe your body, to shelter and protect you in this life.  It is a very small thing, indeed, in comparison to what He does and gives for you in the Body of Christ Jesus.

Think of it.  Will you really doubt or question God’s love and care for you?  Do you suppose that He will not provide your needs, who did not withhold His own dear Son but gave Him up for you?

Do not cast about and worry, as to how you will make ends meet.  Do not look at yourself, at what you have, or at what you can do and accomplish.  Do not be daunted by the task of providing for your family, and for your neighbor’s needs as well.  Simply do what God has called you to do, by and according to His Word, and trust that He will provide everything that is needed for doing so.

Where and when you do come short of time, ability, or means, examine your heart and life, your choices, decisions, and actions, and consider whether you are investing yourself in that which God has not given you to do, to the detriment of what He has called you and commanded you to do.

But what if you are hungry?  What if you are starving to death?  There are baptized Christians in the world who do go without.  What if you should find yourself out on the street, with no place to lay your head, with little or nothing to wear?  What if you are sick?  What if you are dying?

What if?  In any case, do not despair.  Do not look to yourself, but look to Christ who loves you.  And looking to Christ, look also to your neighbor in love, and do what you are given to do.  Give your neighbor something to eat, as all that you have, be it little or much, has been given to you.

Remember the widow with her little boy?  Almost no food left, only enough for one last meal.  She and her son are going to eat, and then they are going to die.  And just then, when they’re on the verge of starvation, along comes the man of God and says, “First give me something to eat.”

She did not starve.  Her little boy did not starve.  Their food did not run out.  For the entire time of famine, God continued to feed them.  And He feeds you, too; so that you should be able to feed your neighbor, and to support the Church and Ministry of His Word with whatever you have.

But what if you spend your life in love and pour yourself out completely for others, and you die in the line of duty?  What then?  What have you lost?  Nothing.  Though you die, yet shall you live.

But if you turn away from Christ and from your neighbor to fend for yourself, to feed and clothe yourself, to get a life for yourself, you will fail.  You will die.  And you will lose everything.  Because you’re not God, no matter how hard you try.  That is not given to you.  Repent.

It is the Lord, in His tender mercy and compassion, who feeds you and clothes you, heals you and protects you.  He does all of that, not only for you, but also for the wicked, with or without your prayer.  You don’t have to twist His arm.  He does it gladly for His own love’s sake.

Much more, in love, He has called you to a far better life than this one that you now know.  And He has called you to that new Life in Christ by the way and the means of His Cross.

Those who share His Baptism — including, now also, Emma Elizabeth — share His Life out in the wilderness, in desolate places, where there seems to be no water or food but only the attacks of the devil.  That wicked foe taunts you: Why isn’t God taking care of you?  Why are you going hungry?  Why do you have to suffer?  Why must everything be so hard and go so badly for you?

Well, the fact is that those who are baptized into Christ share His Cross and suffering.  They share His death.  And it is by His Cross that you also receive and share His Resurrection and His Life.

It is for His compassion’s sake that He does it, for you and for all.  And it is at His own expense.  He denies Himself the very comforts and benefits with which He still takes care of you.

He goes hungry.  He does not miraculously feed Himself in the desert.  He waits upon His Father to feed Him in due season.  And He goes thirsty, as He hangs upon the Cross, parched and dying for you sins.  He goes hungry and thirsty, that He might feed you with His own flesh and blood.

He goes homeless, that you should be sheltered in the Temple of His crucified and risen Body.

And He goes naked in His death upon the Cross, that He may clothe you with His righteousness — as He done this morning for Emma Elizabeth in her Holy Baptism.

He bears all your griefs and sorrows, and He takes all your sickness, suffering, and death upon Himself, in order to heal all of your diseases and to give you life in place of death by His Word.

You shall not live by bread alone.  By bread alone, you will finally die.  But you do live, now and forever, by this Word of God in Christ, by this Word made Flesh who speaks to you in love, and who forgives you all of your sins.  For where there is such forgiveness, there is life and salvation.

This Word made Flesh gives Himself to you as Bread for both body and soul.  For He who gives life to your soul, gives life to your body as well.  Even here and now, you are living by His grace.  But you shall live even better, and forever and ever, in the Resurrection of your body at the last.

Here is the Rock who has been opened for you, to pour out of Himself the water and the Blood that quench your thirst, cleanse and refresh you within and without, and give you life in the wilderness.  Here and now, as then, He does it all by the hand of His disciples.  But He is the One who acts.  He is the One who speaks.  He takes the bread, He blesses, He breaks, and He gives it to you with His Word.  Take and eat His Body.  Drink His Blood.  Be satisfied.  Be forgiven.  And live.

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