05 November 2017

Faith and Life in the Body of Christ

Not only for Benjamin and Julianne, who are being confirmed on this day, but for everyone who has been confirmed, for each and all of our catechumens, for all the baptized, and for all who will be baptized, here is the faith and life to which you are called in the Body of Christ Jesus:

It is first of all to hear and receive the Word of God, to believe and confess His Word, to pray and to live by His Word in love for God and man.  For you have one Teacher, Christ, who catechizes you in the Word and the Wisdom of God.  Listen to Him, and learn from Him.  And as you hear and learn, so also speak and pray; for it is by such faith in His Word that you live by His grace.

Hear and heed His Word while you have this opportunity, while it is near and spoken to you, lest He remove it from you and leave you with nothing but darkness and silence, death and despair.

Not only listen to His Word, but trust and rely on His Word, and so also do what He commands.  Work and labor, faithfully and righteously, within your own office and station in life.  Submit to the authorities that God has placed over you in this world, as unto Him, according to His Word.  And be a faithful “father,” as it were, in exercising whatever authority you have been given within your own calling, under the one Father in heaven by whom all fatherhood on earth is named.

Do not serve for the love of money, nor to make a name for yourself, to be seen and acknowledged by other people.  Rather, work and labor in the fear of the Lord, in faith and love for Him, and in love for your neighbor, in harmony with God’s Word.  His Word is always your reference point.

As He has named you with His Name and given you Himself and all good things by His grace, rely on Him for all that you need, and receive His good and perfect gifts in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  And for the same reason, love and serve your brothers and sisters in the same Lord Jesus Christ, since they and you are children of one and the same God and Father in heaven.

Discipline yourself and your flesh, and “possess your own vessel,” that is, your body, in holiness and honor.  For as your body also is redeemed and sanctified by Christ — who bore all your sins in His Body on the Cross, and who was raised bodily from the dead for your justification — and as your body has been cleansed, along with your soul, by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism; and as your body is fed, along with your soul, with the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion; and as your body shall be resurrected at the last and glorified forever — so, too, the life that you live here and now in the body really matters.  It does make a difference.

Your life in the body matters and makes a difference, whether you live in faith and love unto the righteousness and holiness of Christ, or in laziness, lust, and licentiousness, unto death.  For as faith lays hold of life in Christ, so does sin lay hold of death by denying and departing from Christ.

Your righteousness and life in Christ Jesus are free and clear; for they are by His grace alone, prior to any works of yours.  That is certainly true.  But that is not an excuse or permission for laziness or licentiousness.  It is rather grounds for holiness in word and deed.  Whereas good works do not lead the way into heaven, nor can they ever get you there, they do follow after faith in Christ.

Good works do not make the saint; but good works do follow after the saints, who live by faith in Christ Jesus.  And their good works of love glorify the Name of their God and Father in heaven.

So, then, beloved of the Lord, do not be lazy.  Do not make others have to make up for your slack and serve you.  But work hard at your job, provide for your family, and care for your neighbor.

Give yourself over to the good works that God has prepared for you to do within your office and stations in life.  Not only is this good and right, according to His Word, but it focuses your time, attention, and energy on loving your neighbor, and on giving life to your neighbor, as the Lord loves you and gives you life by the Word and work of His Gospel.

Discipline yourself to live and work in love, rather than leaving your heart and mind and eyes to wander in lust.  Do not by any means pursue your lust, which, left unchecked and undisciplined, leads to bodily impurity and to sins against your neighbor (and against your neighbor’s spouse).

If you do not struggle with sexual temptations, praise God for that.  But still be on your guard against the covetous lusts that do rage within your heart, mind, and body, whether it be for money or fame, for music or sports, for popularity or power, or for whatever else it might be.

Do not be deceived, and do not kid yourself.  What you do with your body matters.  When you set your heart and mind upon that which is contrary to the Word of God — to desire what He has not given to you — when you turn your eyes to gaze upon it, and move your feet toward it, and set your hand upon it, then your covetous lust has conceived and given birth to sin.  And when your sin is fully grown, it will bring forth death.  It may or may not be the death of your mortal body, but the pursuit of your sinful passions and impurity will put to death your faith and life in Christ.

But the Lord is the Avenger in all these things.  He avenges your neighbor against your sins, to be sure, but He also avenges you against the assaults and accusations of the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh.  As your body participates in your sin, so does the Lord discipline your body, not only to curb and temper your wickedness, but also to alert you to the danger and call you to repentance.  He likewise sends His true Prophets to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name.

He does not chase you down and chastise you in order to embarrass and shame you, but to save you from sin and death, and to bring you to Himself in love.  He humbles you in order to exalt you.

Be humbled, then, before both God and man.  Fear, love, and trust in God.  Rely upon His Word, instead of striving to make a life for yourself.  And as you are loved by Him and cared for by His grace, so humble yourself to love and serve and care for your neighbor in the Lord.

Do not worry about yourself, but follow Christ Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith.  Follow Him by listening to Him, by hearing and heeding His Word and the preaching of it.  Trust His Word, and live according to it.  And follow His example.  For He is your Leader — already in your life in the body here on earth, and so also through death and the grave into the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting in heaven.  He leads not only by His Word, but also by His example.

And yet, for all of that, He is far more than just a good example.  In His true divine greatness and almighty strength, He has become your Servant.  He has come down from heaven to serve you, and to save you, at the cost of His own body and life.  He has taken all your sin, all your suffering and sorrow, all your mortality and death upon Himself.  And He has humbled Himself under the mighty hand of God; He has become obedient, even unto death upon the Cross.  He has thereby suffered all your punishment, for He has given His life and shed His blood to atone for all your sins.

In this you see His perfect faith and holy love.  He did not talk the talk without walking the walk.  He did not bind the heavy burden of the Law upon your shoulders, but He took its full back-breaking load upon Himself and bore it for you.  He trusted His Father and He submitted Himself entirely to the Word and will of His Father.  In such faith, He gave Himself up for you and for all.

And God the Father raised this same Christ Jesus from the dead.  Indeed, He has highly exalted Him, and given Him the Name above every name.  The Father has glorified His incarnate Son — in His Body of flesh and blood like yours! — and has seated Him at His right hand for all eternity.

He is thus your merciful and great High Priest.  He is your Righteousness and Holiness forever.  His Cross and Resurrection are your repentance, by which you are now called and carried out of sin and death, and out of the grave, into faith and life, to be seated with Him in the heavenly places.  That is what your Holy Baptism has given and done for you, and that is what it signifies and works in you, day after day, throughout your life on earth.  It puts you to death to your sin, and it raises you up, again and again, to newness of life in Christ Jesus through His free and full forgiveness.

Such repentance and forgiveness are not thwarted, undone, or defeated by your death.  They are rather completed in your bodily death from this vale of tears, and then they shall be fully realized in the resurrection of your body unto the life everlasting of your body and soul in heaven.  Today, in the rite of Confirmation, we all together affirm and confess that gracious gift of Holy Baptism.

It is in the confidence of your Baptism, in the certainty of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, that you live and work and labor.  And it is in the same confidence and certainty that we remember and give thanks for the faithful departed, that great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded.  For as they live and abide in the Body of Christ, as they are cleansed by His Blood and clothed in His Righteousness forevermore, so are we also one Holy Communion with them in the Body and Blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ.  So are you cleansed and clothed by Him, as a Bride made beautiful for her Groom.  And so do you also live and abide in Him, both now and forever.

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

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