10 September 2017

The Greatness of Humility, Faith, and Love

The measure of things in the Kingdom of Heaven, and so also the measure of things in our Lord’s Church on earth, is quite different than the world’s measure of greatness, of glory, and of good.

In the Kingdom of Heaven, and in the Church, greatness is not measured by what you accomplish, by what you accumulate, or by what you achieve.  It is marked by humility, by faith, and by love.

As a Christian, let your attitude be one of humility, both before God and before man.  Do not think yourself better than your neighbor.  Do not see yourself except as God sees you, that is, according to His Law, and according to His Gospel.  And so consider your neighbor the same way.  In love.

Indeed, let your every thought, word, and action be prompted by love, just as the Lord your God considers you and deals with you according to His steadfast loving-kindness, with great mercy.

In all things, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God.  You will not climb or crash your own way into heaven.  There are no stairways to buy or to build, no ladders to scale the heights.  You enter into heaven in the way that a child is born.  Passively.  It is a life that is given to you, a birth that happens to you.  It is by the painful labor and bloody sweat of another on your behalf.

It is by the innocent suffering and death of the Lord Jesus Christ, by His holy, precious blood, that you enter the Kingdom of heaven.  By the way and the means of His Cross, which has broken down every wall of hostility; and by His bodily Resurrection from death and the grave.

You enter into heaven, not because you have achieved the victory, but because Christ the Lord has won the battle for you, and because He shares the spoils of His battle with you by grace.  It has cost Him everything to save you.  Do not despise His death by presuming any greatness of your own.

At your best you are an unworthy servant.  You have done no more than what was your duty.  But in truth, you have fallen short of the glory of God.  There is no greatness or glory in you, no merit or worthiness in your sinful, mortal flesh.  Do not despise the death of Christ, therefore, by which alone you enter into heaven.  But in humility, and in repentance, receive what He gives to you.

Die to yourself and to your sin, as your Lord has called you to repent, to take up His Cross and follow Him, to be crucified, dead, and buried with Him.  Die to yourself, to your sin, and to the world.  And live by faith in Him.  By faith in His Cross, His Sacrifice.  By faith in His Word.

The truth is that your life depends upon His grace and His forgiveness of all your sins.  If He did not forgive your iniquities and trespasses, then you would be left with nothing but sin and death.

So, then, for your part, gladly forgive your neighbor, and do good to those who sin against you.  Do not despise or look down upon your neighbor, who is a sinner like yourself for whom the Son of God, Christ Jesus, died.  But forgive your neighbor, and do him good, for Jesus’ sake.

It is not the will of your Father in heaven that anyone should perish.  He does not delight in the death of a sinner, but He would have all men come to repentance and be saved.

The person who has done you wrong is one for whom Christ has shed His holy, precious blood; whom He loves and cherishes and desires to save.  You also, then, forgive the one who sins against you, and love him anyway, as the Lord Jesus Christ also loves you and forgives you.

In much the same way, do not be too proud to welcome, receive, and assist your neighbors in need.  Do not despise their frailties and weaknesses, but welcome them and help them in Jesus’ Name.

The Kingdom of Heaven does not belong to the powerful, the prosperous, or the popular.  It is not given to the savvy and sophisticated, to the self-sufficient or self-righteous.  No, it belongs to the little children, and to those who become like little children.  It is given freely to those little ones, to the weak and lowly and despised.  It is opened to the blind, to the crippled, and to the lame.

Children are therefore not to be avoided.  They are not to be abandoned.  And they are not to be aborted or otherwise abused.  They are rather to be welcomed and received in the mercies of God.  For so He receives them to Himself through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  And so do the mighty angels of God look over His little ones, while they yet behold the face of the Father in heaven.

God takes it seriously when those little ones are offended or caused to stumble in their faith, those little ones who believe in Jesus by His grace.  They belong to Him.  When you care for them, you care for Christ.  And when you despise and reject them, you despise and reject Christ.

If you would love the Lord Jesus, love your neighbor, regardless of his age, his size or strength, his color or his income, or any other demographic.  Love your neighbor, and do not hurt or hate.

Now, to be sure, love does not rejoice in what is wrong.  It does not praise what is evil.  For sin is deadly and damnable; it needs to be taken seriously and confronted, for left unchecked it kills both faith and life. Sin is scandalous to the Body of Christ.  Not as though the members of His Body relied on their own good works and righteousness, but because sin within the Body is like a cancer, a disease, which is always working to separate the members of the Body from the Head and the Heart, from the Lord and Savior of the Body, Jesus Christ, in whom alone there is life.

It is by all means true that love does turn the other cheek to those who trespass against it.  Indeed, love suffers all manner of wrong in the humility of faith and with forgiveness.  Just as Christ Jesus also was reviled, yet He did not revile in return, but He kept on entrusting Himself to His own God and Father in heaven.  You also, turn the other cheek.  Love your neighbor even when you are hurt.

But genuine love will also call the neighbor to repentance.  Genuine love will risk friendships and family relations in order to call those neighbors to repentance.  Not for the sake of revenge, and not in bitterness and spite, but precisely in love, for the sake of love, in order to win the brother.

Do not harden your heart in bitterness or resentment, but pray for your enemy.  Pray for him or her by name, and ask that God would have mercy; that He would work His work of repentance, unto faith in His forgiveness.  Pray for your enemy, and bless those who curse you.  That is to say, as you speak to God in love for your neighbor, so also speak to your neighbor in love and in peace.

Forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you, not only with your words but with your actions; continue to love and serve and care for him, according to his needs and from within your office and stations in life.  Do no harm but only good to your neighbor.  In so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone.  Give no cause for offense, and do not be easily offended, but rest yourself in Christ, and love your neighbor as Christ loves you.  Clothe his body, and feed him, and shelter him, as you are given the means and opportunity.  And speak the Word of God to your neighbor.

Do not write your neighbor off as a lost cause.  Especially not your brother or sister in Christ.  Do not turn your back on your neighbor who has gone missing or astray, but seek out the lost one to do him good, in order to bring him home.  Not pridefully or self-righteously, but in humility, in the fear of the Lord.  Do it as you have been sought and found by the great Good Shepherd of us all.

If you have gone after your neighbor in pride and presumption, repent.  Or if you have failed to seek out your neighbor at all, repent.  Now it is your own sin that is at the forefront of concern!  Therefore, return to your Baptism.  Be drowned and die, as though in the depths of the sea.  Let your old Adam be put to death, that you may live in the New Man, Christ Jesus.

Return to your Baptism by contrition and repentance, as the Catechism has taught you well.  Own your sins as sins, and mourn them.  Confess your trespasses.  Name them for what they are.  Allow the Word of God to serve you in that way against the lies of the devil, his temptations and his accusations.  Turn away from doing what is evil, and begin to do what is good and right and true.

Wherever you have stumbled or fallen, repent.  Confess your sins, and be forgiven.  And wherever you have caused your neighbor to stumble and fall, repent.  Cut all those sins and temptations from your body and life, from your thoughts, words, and actions, and throw them all away from you.

Don’t get out the butcher knife and go after your eye that has lusted.  Don’t get out the cleaver and take off your hand or your foot.  Your heart will still be evil, and you will find other ways to sin.

But if you have lusted, or stolen, or run to do evil, confess it.  Cut it off with the Law of God.  And be forgiven, be absolved, by His Word of the Gospel.  That is your repentance, your resurrection, and your righteousness, which is by faith in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.

Allow this Lord Jesus to make you healthy and whole and alive with His Word and Holy Spirit.  To recreate you in His Image, so that you would then begin to use your eyes and hands and feet to see your neighbor’s needs and to go out and help and serve him by the charities of God.

Rest assured that, in repentance and faith, you will be raised up.  Whatever your trespasses have been, you will be forgiven, you will be raised up.  Because Christ Jesus is the Man who has humbled Himself as a little Child.  Eight times or more, St. Matthew has called this same Lord Jesus Christ precisely that: The Child, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

To save you He became a little Child, a Fetus in the womb, a newborn Infant at the breast.  He was a little Boy.  And as He grew up, He also humbled Himself and became obedient, even unto death on the Cross.  He has done it all for you — in love.  He has come down from heaven to save you.

When you were lost, He sought you out and found you.  By His Incarnation.  By His agony and bloody sweat.  By His death upon the Cross.  And in His Resurrection, too, He has come for you; He has opened the way for you, that He might bring you home, rejoicing, to His Father in heaven.

And that is not all!  For He has also sought you out with His ministry of reconciliation, with His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, with His Gospel.  He has sent His ministers to come to you, to preach to you, to forgive you in His Name.  And He has given you other people, too, other Christians, parents, teachers, and friends, who have spoken His Word to you in love.

You also, be such a person for the people around you, that you might be an instrument of Christ.

He has sought you out and found you with His Gospel.  He has taken hold of you in love.  Not to crush and destroy you, but to embrace you to Himself.  He has taken you to be His own.  And He does bring you home with great joy, as a dearly beloved child of His God and Father in heaven.

He abides with you.  “Lo, I am with you always,” He promises, “and I shall never leave you nor forsake you.”  Wherever you are gathered by His Word, with His Body in His Name — He has not uttered empty promises, but — He is there with you.  And where Christ is, there heaven is, there life is, because there is found and freely given His forgiveness of sins and His gift of salvation.

Here, then, you are saved, because Christ Jesus is here with you — in the midst of your brethren and His — and He is your Savior.  He rejoices over you.  He really does.  He looks at you, at each one of you, in love.  He knows you better than you know yourself, and He loves you.

His Word of forgiveness, that is what is true for you.  For He has humbled Himself, and He has been exalted, that you should be raised up in and with Him by His Gospel, unto life everlasting.  Receive what He gives to you here in His divine mercy, and rejoice in His great salvation.

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

No comments: