29 June 2018

A Mighty Fortress Is Christ's Church

The Almighty and Eternal Son of the Living God has come down from the Father in heaven, into human flesh and blood, in order to lay down His Body and offer up His Life as a Ransom for the many, for the salvation of the world.  He has entered our pagan territory of sin and death, in order to slay and defeat our ancient enemy, that old dragon, who is called the devil or Satan, the accuser.

By His sacrificial death upon the Cross, this one Lord, Jesus Christ, has atoned for the sins of the world and reconciled all of us to His God and Father.  He has thereby destroyed death, removed its sting, and robbed the devil of all his powers, which are sin and guilt and accusation.  The Lord has thus plundered the grave and Hades of their dead.  And in His Resurrection He has opened the gates of heaven to all who believe and are baptized into Him, the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.

It is by the preaching of this precious Gospel, by this Word of forgiveness, and by the giving of life and salvation through the ways and means of His Cross and Resurrection, that Christ Jesus establishes, builds, and protects His Church on earth, even as it is in the Kingdom of heaven.

Whoever lives and abides within His Church on earth is safe and secure from sin, death, the devil, and hell, and shall live and abide with Christ in Paradise, together with His Father and the Holy Spirit.  For Christ Jesus is the Wise Man who has built His House upon the Rock.  The winds rage, the rains pour down, and the floods rise against that House, pummeling it.  But it shall not fall.

Why, then, would you even consider living outside of His House, where you would surely perish?

The dilemma that confronts the flesh of your old Adam, the paradox that puts off the sinful world in which you live, is that the Wise Man appears to be, not wise, but utterly foolish and weak.  And the Rock Foundation of His Church on earth appears to be, not solid and secure, but shifting sand.

As far as human sight and sense can tell, the Lord Jesus Christ appears to be no more than a man.  A great Prophet, perhaps.  A good and righteous man.  And a powerful preacher, no doubt.  But surely not the Son of God, the Savior of all people.  No one is able to see that by flesh and blood.

And when He is crucified, put to death, and buried — condemned as a criminal, hung up on the Cross in naked shame and humiliation, and then laid to rest within a borrowed tomb — where is there any victory in that?  Where is the power and might of His great Glory?  Where is the promise of His coming?  Where do you ever see or feel or experience His Resurrection and His Life?

He declares that even the gates of Hades shall never prevail against His Church.  But what, then, of the fact that you, and your loved ones, your family and friends and fellow Christians, are subject to death and finally buried in the ground?  Where is your hope, your life, and your salvation?

Where is the Living God who can and will help you, when death still seems to get the last word?

The Church appears to be a pitiful fortress indeed!  Little more than a fisherman’s shack upon the seashore.  Its so-called Rock Foundation is but the Ministry of the Gospel, that is, the preaching of repentance, the spoken Word of Absolution, the washing of water with the Word, and the administration of bread and wine in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus, the Crucified One.

And what sort of men are called and sent to preach and administer this Gospel?  Sinners, the lot of them!  Men like Simon Peter and Saul of Tarsus, the one a wavering denier of Christ, and the other a former diehard Pharisee, a persecutor of Jesus and His Christians.  Pastors to this day are quarried from the same rockpile: Sinners in need of forgiveness for their own sins.  Mortals, subject to death and the grave, just like you.  Finite, flawed, and frail creatures of flesh and blood.

And what keys do they bring?  With what do they come to set you free from the death grip of sin and to open the gates of heaven to you?  By what power and authority are they supposed to keep you safe?  Nothing but the Gospel, the Words of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the means of grace.  All pitiful and pathetic, it would seem, and impotent in the face of all your needs, all your hurts, and all your suffering.  You shall not perceive or believe otherwise by your own reason or strength.

You cannot recognize the Lord Jesus Christ for who He is.  Nor could you have done so back in the day.  You cannot come to Him, nor can you love and trust in Him, unless the Father reveals Him to you, and gives Him to you, and lays Him on your heart by His Word and Holy Spirit.

But the beautiful truth of the Gospel is, that the Father surely does reveal and give His Son to you, according to His grace, mercy, and love.  It’s just that He does it by the Cross of Christ, and by the preaching of His Gospel, which appear to all the world to be so foolish and miserable and weak.

You cannot open your eyes wide enough to see it.  But He opens your eyes in faith by the Light of His Word, by His Gospel, by the forgiveness of all your sins in the Name and stead and for the sake of Christ Jesus.  You cannot open your heart or your head to accept it.  But He opens your ears to hear it.  He opens your mind to understand it.  And He opens wide your heart to believe it.

And then, not only that, but He also does for you as He did for St. Peter.  The Father opens up your lips to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who has come in the flesh to be your Savior, and who, by His Cross and Resurrection, has become your Strength and your Song.

The Word that His servants speak to you is His Word.  The Sacraments they administer are His works of life and salvation for you.  Their forgiveness of your sins in His Name is His forgiveness of all your sins.  And according to His own Word and promise, by that special authority of Christ which He has entrusted to His Church in the Office of the Keys, that Absolution (or forgiveness) is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ your dear Lord dealt with you Himself.  Because it is, in fact, your dear Lord Jesus Christ who is dealing with you precisely in this way.

And His forgiveness of your sins, His free and full forgiveness of all your sins by the spoken Word of His Gospel — though it seems a still small voice against the rage and roaring of the devil — it is a most solid foundation of a most impenetrable Mighty Fortress.

Where sin is forgiven, the devil cannot accuse you.  Where sin is forgiven, even God’s own Law does not condemn you anymore forever.  Where sin is forgiven, death no longer has any claim on you; it must relinquish your body and soul to Christ your Redeemer, who has purchased and won you for Himself with His own holy and precious Blood.

To that end, He gives you a down payment on the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul, by feeding you with His Body and Blood right here at His Altar on earth.

Where sin is forgiven — and your sin is forgiven! — there is only life and salvation, come hell or high water against you.  It cannot touch you.  It shall not reach you.  You shall not die, but live.

The gates of Hades shall not prevail against you within the Body of Christ, His Church.  For the Word and Flesh of Christ abide and stand fast forever.  His death has been the death of death and hell’s destruction.  His Resurrection is your Resurrection, and His Life Everlasting is yours.

Taste and see that it is so, and that the goodness, loving-kindness, and tender mercies of your Lord abide forever in the Body and Blood of Christ, your Savior, crucified and risen from the dead.

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

24 June 2018

The Peace of Christ in the Storms of Life

“Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!?”

It is, for the most part, a rhetorical question.  The wind and the sea must ever and only obey the Lord God, their Creator.  Just as the same Lord makes clear in His response to Job, when even that great man of faith began to question the tragic events in his life.  But who was Job, and who are you, to question the wisdom of God, the Almighty, the Maker of the heavens and the earth?

He shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth and issued from the womb.  He made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band.  He fixed His limit for it, and set bars and doors.  He said, “This far you may come, but no farther; here your proud waves must stop!”

He is the almighty and eternal Son of the living God, by whom all things are made, and without whom there is nothing — who now tabernacles with you in His own flesh and blood as true Man.

There is particular significance in His command of the elements, especially the wind upon the waters.  For these are the waters of Creation, upon which the Spirit of Yahweh is moving.  And they are, again, the waters of the Flood, which cleanse the world of sinful unbelief and damnable idolatry, but which deliver the righteous from death and give them life by the Spirit of Yahweh.

We all know the importance of water as one the most basic components of life at all levels.  For the Lord Jesus to control the waters of the sea, therefore, is the evidence and exercise of His life-giving authority as the Creator.  At the same time, there is also a destructive potential to water, and no doubt you have experienced for yourself the terrifying fury of storms: thunder and lightening and torrential rains, driven by gale-force winds, threatening the safety of both man and beast.

Confronted by the deadly power of water in those and similar situations, you might well ask why God allows such things to happen to you and to others.  That was the question of Job, and of the disciples out there in their little boat upon the lake.  But whatever else ought to be said in response, it must first of all be said that the gracious Creator of all things is not the Author of death.  He uses death to punish sin with sin, to be sure; for He is the Lord, to whom all flesh is held accountable.  But He is, by nature, the true and living God, the Author and Giver of Life and Light and Love.

When Adam rebelled against his Creator and Lord, by rejecting and disobeying the Word that God had spoken, he brought death into a world that was created for real life with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  If not for the gracious preservation of our Lord, we should already suffer the eternal death of damnation, which is to exist apart from Him.  As it is, He allows the consequences of sin to afflict and discipline the children of man, in order to drive them back to Himself in repentance.

The “storms of life,” both natural and metaphorical — beginning already with the Great Flood of the Old Testament — are the judgment of God against sin.  But not so much as a retribution for this or that particular sin, as it is that He curses the creation in the hope of His Redemption.

Regrettably, among the consequences of sin are the persistent doubts and fears of unbelief, such as you have heard in the case of the disciples on the lake.  The same is true for you.  Though you confess and affirm that God is the Creator of all things in heaven and on earth, and that He still takes care of all His creatures, you still have your doubts — in the midst of calamity and danger — as to whether the Lord is going to protect you and provide for your needs in this body and life.

The sad fact is, that, apart from the Word and Spirit of Christ, the tragedies of life do not serve their purpose of driving you back to the Lord.  Instead, they drive you further away, into the utter depths of sheer despair.  Like the disciples then, you begin to wonder and worry that the Lord has forgotten you, that He is “sleeping” on the job, or that He just doesn’t care that you are perishing.

Of course, your dear Lord Jesus Christ does care deeply about you.  So does He also care for you.  His genuine concern is already demonstrated in this Holy Gospel, from the outset, by His crossing of the Sea to the land of the Gentiles.  For He is bringing mercy and forgiveness, life and salvation, to those who have lived and walked in the darkness of unbelief (as you also have done).

There are many parallels, in this respect, to the familiar Old Testament story of Jonah, who was sent by God to preach repentance to the people of Ninevah.  The Prophet Jonah, as you know, did not want to go to those people.  He tried to run away on a ship in the opposite direction.  But that ship, too, was caught in the grip of a violent storm.  Do you remember where the captain found poor Jonah?  Asleep below deck!  But after he had woken up, the storm was finally brought to an end when Jonah directed his shipmates to throw him into the depths of the sea.  He spent three days underwater in the belly of a fish, before emerging onto land to carry out his mission from God.

Now, there are some obvious differences between the Prophet Jonah and Christ Jesus.  To begin with, Jesus went gladly to the Gentiles with His preaching of repentance and forgiveness.  And there was no sin of our Lord, as there was in the case of Jonah, to bring the storm upon the ship.

Nevertheless, Jesus elsewhere indicates that Jonah is the sign of His own death and burial and Resurrection from the dead — the three days that He will spend in the belly of the earth, and then His rising from death to life again.  It is by His Sacrifice on the Cross that He brings calm to the storms of sin and death, and newness of life and genuine peace to all of His creation.  Indeed, the mercy and compassion of His Cross and Resurrection flow throughout His entire life and Ministry, and He will afterwards send His Apostles to preach that Holy Gospel to the whole creation.

For example here, His genuine care and concern for the disciples is shown by the fact that He did bring the storm to an end.  Their lack of faith in Him did not destroy His faithfulness toward them.  He saved their lives, just as He does for you, despite how often you have given up hope in Him.

Of course, His calming of the storm demonstrates, not only His compassion, but also His divinity as the Son of God.  Hence, the fear of the sinful disciples in response to His miracle, as they are confronted by the Lord God Almighty.  And yet His divine compassion and genuine concern for His disciples, yourself included, is also indicated by His perfect life as the true Man in holy faith and love.  For Christ, the Son of God, is also the Man who is most truly human.  His very presence in the boat, just “as He was,” sleeping like a baby on a pillow in the stern, testifies to the solid fact of His human flesh and blood — flesh and blood like your own, in which He has carried all your sin and suffering to the Cross.  In His presence, therefore, the disciples need not have been afraid.  In His presence, the only proper attitude is faith and trust in His deep, divine compassion.

To be sure, the disciples did the right thing by going to Christ in their time of need.  However small their faith had become, even so, by the gracious working of the Spirit, they did run to Christ, they woke Him up, and they sought His help.  In truth, the Spirit also drove them to their knees before the One who is their Savior and their Lord.  God grant that He would do the same for you, as well.

But the real example of faith in this Gospel is Christ Himself.  His sleeping in the boat was, itself, already an act of faith and trust in His Father.  He lived His entire life in this way, “entrusting Himself, His body and soul and all things,” into the hands of God.  And it was also in such perfect faith that He willingly sacrificed Himself in the flesh, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for the healing of His Creation, confident that His God and Father would raise Him from the dead.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  Old things have passed away.  Behold, all things have become new.  In Christ is found the faith and life that you are called to live in Him, the faith and life that Adam and Eve and all their children have otherwise failed to live.  He alone has done what you could not do.  And yet, He has done it all for you.  He has fulfilled the Law of God by keeping all of His commandments in faith and love on your behalf.  And with forgiveness of your sins, He gives you life with God.  For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.

In the sleeping and waking of Christ on the boat out on the lake, there is foreshadowed His Cross and Resurrection.  There again, the disciples felt themselves abandoned by their Lord, at the very moment when He was most completely given for their forgiveness and salvation.  But there, too, the tables were turned.  As Christ entered upon the storms of His Passion, bearing the judgment of God against their sins, His disciples were the ones fast asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In His calming of the storm at sea, when He was awakened, you see the restoration of Creation by His Cross and Resurrection.  The curse of sin is removed by His Sacrifice, so the raging storm must cease.  With Him there is a great calm, like the Word of the Lord at Creation: “Behold, He looked at everything He made, and it was very good.  And God rested from the work that He had done.”

Thus are you called to live your life in the peaceful calm of His New Creation, in the Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.  When you know and trust that He has saved you and redeemed you, then you rest in Christ, enjoying His gifts and looking to Him for real life.

Instead of frantic desperation and the endless pursuits of your own self-righteousness, you are able to “sleep” in the Peace of Christ, because you are traveling safely with Him in the “Boat” of His Church.  While the unbelieving world, together with your old Adam, is drowned and destroyed in the waters of the Great Flood, you are kept dry and secure in the Holy Ark of Christendom.

Herein you are crossing with your dear Lord Jesus to the “other side.”  Crossing the Red Sea out of slavery in Egypt into the freedom of faith in His forgiveness.  And crossing the Jordan River out of the wilderness of sin into the Promised Land of Paradise in His Body and His Blood.  And all the while, the wind and waves that would otherwise terrify you and threaten to kill you have been replaced by the living and life-giving, Spirit-filled waters of your Holy Baptism.

In the face of all the storms of life — those within your heart and mind, and those that rage around you in the world — no matter how intense and frightening they are, hear the Word of the Lord, the Creator, in the voice of Christ, your Savior, who speaks above the tumult: “Peace be with you!  Be still and know that I am God.  I am with you always, and I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

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

21 June 2018

Living the Sacramental Life

The Fulfillment of Creation in the Baptized and Eucharistic Life

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  He created all things out of nothing by His Word and Holy Spirit.  All things are His, therefore, and whatever He has created is very good.  It is good because it is the work of God.  It is good because the Word of God, by whom all things are made, has Himself become flesh, true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And in spite of man’s fall into sin, all of creation has been redeemed and sanctified, and it is made brand new, in the Body of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, crucified and risen from the dead.

So is the goodness of creation confirmed and sealed unto you by the fact that Christ administers His grace, His Gospel, His forgiveness, life, and salvation, through the creaturely means of water, bread, and wine.  As God creates and gives new life through holy marriage, by the bodily union of husband and wife, so does He create and give new life in body and soul through Christ and His Bride, the Church, in Holy Baptism.  And as He opens His hand to satisfy and sustain every living thing, so does He feed and nourish His children with the Body and Blood of Christ at His Altar.

In responding to those who demonically oppose the goodness of marriage and forbid various kinds of food, St. Paul affirms that God has created these very things “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For everything created by God is good,” he writes, “and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by means of the Word of God and prayer” (1Timothy 4:3b–5).  That is a comprehensive and inclusive statement, to be sure.  But it is instructive to note how precisely it pertains to the Holy Sacraments.

The waters of Holy Baptism and the bread and wine of the Holy Communion are indeed sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, not only in theory but in practice, according to the institution of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And these good gifts are received in faith and with thanksgiving to God.  Not simply as a matter of course, but as the preeminent example of creation made new in Christ.

All of creation is fulfilled and perfected in the flesh and blood of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.  It is redeemed and sanctified for you in His Holy Sacraments.  You are baptized into His New Creation, by way of His Cross and Resurrection.  You belong to His holy Body, and you live a new life to and from His holy Altar.  So do you receive and use the good things of God’s creation in faith and with thanksgiving, and you become a living sacrament of Christ in relation to your neighbors in the world, within your own callings and stations in life.

The Fulfillment and Fruition of God’s Good Creation

As creatures of God, water, bread, and wine are good, even outside of their use in the Sacraments.  Indeed, they are fundamental to this body and life on earth, and for that reason alone they should not be despised but received with thanksgiving.  Even so, the fact that our Lord has chosen to use these particular elements in Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar also distinguishes water, bread, and wine in the midst of His good creation.  They are significant on account of that usage.

When God created the heavens and the earth, He started with water.  And when He recreates and makes all things new, He starts with water.  “The earth was formed out of water and by water,” and then, in the days of Noah, the world “was destroyed, being flooded with water” (2 Peter 3:5–6).  And just as righteous Noah and his family, eight persons in all, “were brought safely through the water,” so it is the case that “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:20–21).  So water itself is a sign of the way that you are put to death and raised to new life as a new creation in Holy Baptism.

As Luther says in his Flood Prayer, by the Baptism of His beloved Son, Christ Jesus, God sanctified the Jordan and all water to be a salutary flood and a rich and full washing away of sins.

So, as you go about your day and you encounter water as refreshment and cleansing, and as basic to life in this world, you are called to remember that with water and His Word the Lord your God has forgiven your sins, rescued you from death and the devil, and given you everlasting salvation.

When you eat bread — which is so basic that “daily bread” includes everything that pertains to this body and life — remember and give thanks that God also feeds you with the living Bread from heaven, the flesh of Jesus Christ, that you should not perish but have everlasting life in His Body.  After all, He reveals Himself and gives Himself to His disciples in “the Breaking of the Bread.”

And when you drink wine, rejoice, not only in the goodness of that gift, but in the fact that God uses wine to give you the precious Blood of Christ.  None of this is accidental or incidental.  It is by God’s design from the beginning, from before the foundation of the world, that He should love you and give Himself to you by the means of His good creation.  And now, as He does so in the Holy Sacraments, He shapes the way you look at the rest of the world and your life in the world.

A sacramentally shaped life is one that exercises reverence for the goodness of God’s creation, and a profound appreciation and respect for the body.  Such good things are holy in themselves, because they are God’s work and His gift.  And they are made holy for you by God’s Word, as you receive them and make use of them with prayer and thanksgiving in His Name.  Your own body is likewise redeemed and sanctified by the Word and Spirit of God.  For your body is washed with pure water, and your body is fed with the Body and Blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:22–26).  By these creaturely means of grace, you are raised up with Christ to live with Him, both body and soul, in the New Creation.  Not that God takes something bad and makes it good.  He rather takes the good that He has made, and He brings it to its proper fulfillment and perfection by the Word of Christ.

Instead of succumbing to pride or despair, consider yourself according to the Word that God has spoken concerning you.  You are His creature, to begin with.  So are you His workmanship in Christ Jesus, as He has baptized you in His Name, and as He feeds you with His Body and Blood.

As creation is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, and as the Sacraments are what they are because God’s Word comes to the elements of water, bread, and wine, so is your life in the world also governed and sanctified by the ongoing catechesis of the Word of God.  Even the winds and the waves, so also bread and wine and all His creatures, are subject to the authority of His Word.  For He is the Author and Giver of Life and the Fulfiller of Creation.  How much more so, then, are you to live by faith in His Word, and according to His Word, in the place where He stations you.

Luther calls the Word of God the most holy Relic of all, which sanctifies your whole life.  In the Holy Sacraments, it is the Word of God that takes water and makes it a Baptism, and the Word of God that takes bread and wine and makes them the Body and Blood of Christ for you.  So it is that your body and life are made holy by the Word of God, which you hear and confess in daily prayer, in catechesis with your family, and with all the people of God gathered around the Lord’s Altar.  By the prayer and preaching of His Word, your apparently mundane life is sacred and significant.

As all things are made by and for the Word of God, your life in Christ is a verbal life, which hears, confesses, and prays the Word that God the Father speaks to you by His Son.  Indeed, you speak, as you are spoken to, the language of the Church and of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  That is the new tongue of the New Creation, which is rehearsed and handed over in the Holy Sacraments.

First and foremost is the Name of the Lord, with which He has named you in your Holy Baptism.  He has written it on your body and soul, on your forehead and your heart, along with the sign of the Holy Cross.  You are baptized in and with the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And His Name is hallowed in you by the preaching of His Word and by the life that you live according to His Word.  So do you also confess and call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, because He has named you with His Name and adopted you to be His child in Holy Baptism.

In the Lord’s Supper, there are the Words of Christ: “Take, eat, this is My Body, given for you.  Drink of it, all of you, this Cup is the New Testament in My Blood, which is shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.”  To live by faith in those Words, and to receive what they give you, is central to the Christian life.  But these gifts of Christ are administered “in remembrance of Him.”  Which is to say, first of all, that the Lord remembers you in the Sacrament by the Ministry of His Word, by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection.  For as often as we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, it is necessary that the death of the Lord Jesus Christ be proclaimed until He comes.  The catechesis of His Word thus brings you in repentant faith to the Feast of the Word-made-Flesh.

So also in your whole body and life, the Word that sanctifies all your days is the remembrance of Christ Jesus, which is the confession of His Name, the confession of His Cross and Resurrection, the confession of what He does for you, and says to you, and gives to you.  That is what defines and determines your life as a Christian, and it is rooted in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  For the preaching of Christ is always pointing to His Supper, and His Supper is always celebrated with the preaching of His Word.  So it is that you are always living to and from His Holy Supper.

Not only in the Liturgy, but as you make your way to and from the Liturgy throughout the week, the Name of the Lord that you have received in Holy Baptism and the remembrance of the Lord Jesus in the Holy Communion are shaping your life in relation to God and your neighbor.  These Holy Sacraments set you within the Body of Christ, wherein you live by faith in His Word and not by human sight or sense.  You perceive your parents, your spouse, your children, and your place in the world according to the hidden majesty of the Word, just as the true glory of the Sacraments is likewise hidden under apparent frailty and weakness.  Both your sins and your righteousness are determined by the Word and Spirit of Truth, by the Law and the Gospel, and not by your feelings.

The sacramentally shaped life, as your Baptism signifies from the outset, is one of repentance and faith, of dying and rising with Christ Jesus.  Which is also to say that, in relation to the Lord and one another, it is a life of confession and absolution.  You confess your sins and receive absolution, that is forgiveness, from your pastor as from God Himself.  You likewise acknowledge your sins, apologize for them, seek your neighbor’s forgiveness, and make amends as you are able.  And for your part, you readily forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against you (even repeatedly).  That is the rhythm of your life from the Font to the Altar, and from the Altar through the week.  And by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, it is already to live within the New Creation.

Your First, Foremost, and Forever Vocation

To speak of Creation (both old and new) is also to speak of your vocation in the world.  That is not so much your job or what you do and accomplish.  Your vocation is chiefly a matter of who and what God has called you and created you to be.  You are a human being, male or female.  You are a son or daughter.  Perhaps you are also a husband or wife, a father or mother, a brother or sister.  These are permanent or lifelong callings, which set you in lifelong relationships.  The Divine Call to the Office of the Holy Ministry is likewise a life-changing, permanent vocation, which sets a man into a new relationship and responsibility with respect to the Lord and His Church on earth.

By contrast, your offices and stations in life — your particular posts or positions with their duties and responsibilities at any given time — are subject to choices and changes within the freedom of the Gospel.  You won’t always be a student.  You won’t always be changing diapers.  You won’t always be flipping burgers at McDonalds or greeting shoppers at Wal-Mart.  In Christian faith and love all of these endeavors are holy and pleasing to God.  They glorify His Name, and they benefit your neighbors.  But they are not permanent callings, and they do not define your identity or value.

Beyond all of these temporal callings and stations in life, there is yet one vocation that is not just permanent for this body and life, but is actually eternal.  That is the vocation of your Holy Baptism, in which the Lord God has called you to be His child, a son of God in Christ, and a member of His Bride, the Church.  Note the similarities to the most basic earthly vocations of marriage and family.  And yet, you have become a child of God, not just for a time, but for eternity.  And you are united to Christ, your heavenly Bridegroom, in such a way that even death shall never be able to part you.

It is from the vocation of your Baptism that you fulfill all of your other vocations in life, and that you serve your various offices and stations in this world as a Christian.  You live and you love as a child of God, because you are a child of God, by virtue of your Baptism into Christ Jesus.  It is in your Baptism that God the Father has named you with His Name and thereby adopted you as a beloved and well-pleasing son in Christ Jesus.  It is in your Baptism that Christ has cleansed you, and sanctified you, and dressed you in His righteousness, as a Bride made ready for her Husband.  It is in your Holy Baptism that God has called you into His own household and family forever.

Thus bearing His Name, beloved of God and beautiful in Christ, the vocation of your Baptism governs and defines all of your relationships, especially those of marriage and family, of parents and children, of brothers and sisters, all of which point beyond themselves to the household and family of God.  For how you live in the world is determined by who and what you are in Christ.

As a husband and father, myself, and as a pastor, having baptized many of my own children, and having witnessed the marriage of several of my own children (with another one on the horizon), I have been very aware of the intimate link between Holy Baptism and these holy vocations.  As marriage and family are the crowning glory of the first creation, so is the glory of the New Creation found in the marriage and family of Christ and His Bride, the Church.  It is for this glory that you are baptized, and it is to this glory that your familial vocations in this world are pointing.  By the same significance, you learn how to live as a child, by faith, by your Baptism into Christ Jesus.  You learn how to be a husband from Him who loves you, who has given Himself for you, who has betrothed you to Himself as a Bride in Holy Baptism.  You learn how to be a father, to love and care for children, from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has called you by His Son to be His very own in Holy Baptism.  And you learn how to be a wife and mother from the Church, who cleaves to Christ, her Head, who gives birth to the children of God by the washing of water with His Word and Holy Spirit, and feeds them at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom.

Whether married or unmarried, whether fruitful or barren, young, old, or in between, your whole body and life, your flesh and blood, your soul and spirit, the space and time in which you live and move, your words and actions, all are redeemed and sanctified by your Baptism into Christ Jesus.  God has thereby called you out of the nothingness of sin and death into the Life and Light of His eternal Day, into the somethingness of the incarnate Word.  Thus do you live and abide in Christ, and He in you, and all your days and nights, now and forever, are lived in the presence of God.

In the Old Testament, once a year, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies, and in him all of Israel would stand in the presence of God.  But Christ has entered the Sanctuary made without hands, eternal in the heavens, where He stands forever as your merciful and great High Priest.  His Body, crucified, risen, and ascended, is your Anchor behind the veil.  You are anchored to God by the flesh and blood of Christ, even as you go about your life in this world.  For your body, soul, and spirit have been washed with pure water in His Name.  He has bound you to Himself forever.  And as surely as He feeds you with His Body and His Blood at His Table, so surely do you live and abide in the House of the Lord, as a beloved child of His God and Father, unto eternal Life.

Living as the Household and Family of God in the One Body of Christ Jesus

The preaching and catechesis of Christ have brought you to the Font, named you with His Name, adopted you as a child of His God and Father, and anointed you with His Holy Spirit.  So do His preaching and catechesis henceforth bring you to and from His Altar in repentance and faith, that you might receive His forgiveness of all your sins, and that you might live and abide in His Body and Blood, as a living and active member of His Body and Bride, the Church.

To eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ is to be united with Him in the most intimate union possible.  It is surely nothing less than the consummation of His baptismal betrothal, whereby the Bridegroom and His Bride become one Flesh.  It is the fulfillment of the Image and Likeness of God, in which the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve, were created, that man should not be alone but live in love, in fellowship with the Holy Trinity, in a community of many sons and daughters.

To have such profound communion with Christ Jesus in His Marriage Feast, is to have communion with His whole Church in heaven and on earth, as surely as He is the Head of one Body and the Husband of one Wife.  You belong to your brothers and sisters in Christ, and they belong to you.  You are all one Body in Christ, because you all eat of the one Bread which is the Body of Christ, and you all drink of the one Cup which is the New Testament in His Blood.  You are bodied and blooded together in Him.  You are among the countless grains that have been gathered from a thousand hills and baked together into a single Loaf.  In the Holy Communion it is, therefore, as St. Augustine says: You receive what you are, and you are what you receive, the Body of Christ.

You love and care for your brothers and sisters in Christ, as members of one household and family of God, because you have one and the same God and Father in Christ Jesus, you share the same divine Name, you are all anointed by one Holy Spirit, and you are bound to each other by the flesh and blood of one Lord.  You do not have the option of turning your back on those who belong to this Body of Christ, but you are obliged to them, and they to you, for His Name’s sake.  This, too, belongs to your vocation as a child of God, as a member of the Bride of Christ, which is forever.

Within your own family, if any of the children failed to show up for a meal, and you had no idea where they were, you would not say, “Oh, well, I guess they’re just not here.”  No, if one of your children were missing, you would not rest until you found her.  So, too, there ought to be a similar care and concern for all of the children of God, who are your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

I realize that you are constrained by your callings and stations in life.  There is a limit to what you are able to do.  You are finite.  And your finitude does not belong to the curse and consequences of sin, but to the fact that you are a creature of God.  You are not God.  You are created and called to live by faith in Him, in love for your neighbors within your own proper place.  So, of course, it is not possible for you to be friends with everyone, nor to give everyone your full and equal time and attention.  You cannot love everyone the same way, nor should you try.  But in so far as you are able, as opportunity permits, you are called to love your brothers and sisters in Christ.

The household and family of God is not secondary (or incidental) to your own earthly household and family.  The community of Christ’s Church, the communion of saints in His Body and Blood, is the primary thing.  All of your other relationships take their cues from that holy fellowship, which is with the Father and His Son in the Holy Spirit.  You do not favor your husband or wife, your parents or children, over the Bride of Christ and the children of God.  You love your nearest and dearest in this life as the Father loves you in Christ, His Son, and as Christ Jesus loves you in the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, as you go about your week from day to day, it is with care and concern for all who eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ.  He is the Firstborn of many brothers, and you belong to those many brothers, because you are named by God and forgiven by God in Christ.

As previously noted, the fellowship and life of the Church are characterized by repentance and reconciliation, as each and all Christians are forgiven by Christ Jesus and called to forgive each other in His Name.  That is to live by faith in the significance of your Holy Baptism, and to bear the good fruits of a worthy participation in the Holy Communion of Jesus’ Body and Blood.

As you are forgiven by the grace of God, and reconciled to God in Christ, you are also reconciled to one another in Him.  You forgive those who trespass against you.  You do not harbor bitterness or resentment against anyone.  But if anyone has anything against you, then you are to leave your gift at the Altar until you are reconciled with your brother.  Where things stand between you and your neighbor impinges directly upon your life in the Lord’s Liturgy.  Your relationship with God, tangibly expressed in your offerings and gifts, is inextricably connected to your relationship with your neighbor.  Your approach to the Lord’s Altar has both a vertical and horizontal dimension.

Reconciliation with your neighbor is no mere token or formality.  It is more than a handshake and greeting of “peace.”  It means that you actually bear the fruits of repentance in relation to your neighbor.  You die to yourself and rise to newness of life in Christ, as a new creature in Christ, in the way that you relate to your husband or wife, in the way that you relate to your children, in the way that you relate to your coworkers, and in the way that you relate to friends and foes alike.  You take up the Cross and follow after Christ in the way that He has walked, in holy faith and love.

The Pattern of Life in Christ by Participation in His Holy Sacraments

To live as a disciple of Christ Jesus, to live and walk in the way that He does, is to live with Him in Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion.  For disciples are made and sustained by the Baptism and catechesis of Christ, and it is to His disciples that He gives His Body and Blood.  It is in these Holy Sacraments that you are forgiven all your sins and given the life of Christ in body and soul.

In the Old Testament (Exodus 24 and following), the Lord reveals to Moses the Pattern by which he is to construct the Tabernacle, and by which he is to arrange the Priesthood and the Sacrifices.  So the Tabernacle is made according to God’s direction, and afterwards the Temple in Jerusalem is built on the same Pattern.  The Pattern itself is the Lord’s own divine, eternal life in heaven, which God shows to Moses in order to make it available to His people on earth in the Tabernacle.

That divine Pattern is the incarnate Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.  It is His own Body, which is the Temple of God.  It is His Priesthood, by which He sacrifices Himself once for all, and by which He enters with His own Blood into the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens, in order to establish a place for you and all His people in the presence of God the Father.

That same Pattern — the incarnate Christ, crucified and risen, and His Body the Temple of God — that same heavenly reality is revealed and given to you in the New Testament Tabernacle, which is the Body of Christ, His Church, in Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion.  That is where the Lord dwells with His people.  That is where His Name and His Glory are found, on earth as in heaven, that you might draw near to Him, derive your life from Him, and dwell with Him in peace.

And that is the Pattern which is also formed in you, which shapes your body and life in Christ, as you are crucified, put to death, and buried with Him by the ongoing significance of your Baptism, and as you are given to eat and to drink the Fruits of His Cross and Passion, His Body and Blood.

The Pattern of this sacramental life is laid out for you by the Word of God in the basic catechesis of the Small Catechism, and it is exercised for you and given to you in the Divine Liturgy.

The Ten Commandments, to begin with, reveal the good and acceptable will of God for what a life of faith and love looks like.  They describe the life of Christ, first of all, which is also how you are to live in Christ, in faith toward God and in love toward your neighbor.  Certainly that is true with respect to the Second Table of the Law, as well.  But here I’m going to focus on the First Table.

The First Commandment commands you to worship the Lord, the one true God.  That is to kneel and bow down before Him in your heart, mind, body, and soul.  The Second Commandment directs you to sanctify His Name and use it rightly, which is to confess and call upon His Name at all times and in all places with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  And the Third Commandment calls you to rest from your own words and works, in order to give attention to His Word and to rest in His good works.  All three of these Commandments are thus fulfilled in the Liturgy, in which you worship God rightly by hearing His Word, receiving His good Gifts, calling on His holy Name, and resting yourself in the Body of Christ Jesus, the Sabbath who remains for the people of God.

In the Catechism the Creed comes next.  It is the Word of God, which He places on your lips to confess.  By speaking as He has spoken, not only do you praise and glorify His Name, but you also serve your neighbor, and you strengthen your own faith and life in Christ Jesus, by rehearsing what is most true and sure and certain.  You confess who God is and what He has done for the life and salvation of sinners, thereby echoing the Word of the Gospel that He has preached to you.  That is the Pattern of your Christian life, not only in the Liturgy, but throughout your days and weeks.

Likewise, in the Our Father, as a baptized child of God, you are taught and invited to pray to Him as your own dear Father.  So has He given you the very words with which to call upon His Name in Christ, the Son.  This, too, is a fundamental prayer of the Liturgy, and of the entire Christian life.

Then we have the Sacraments of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion, which are the foundation, heart, and soul of the entire Liturgy.  It is instructive that the Lutheran Church has identified these means of grace as being among the Chief Parts of the Christian faith and life.  They are fundamental to what it means to be a Christian, fundamental to who we are as the Church.  From your Baptism to and from the Lord’s Supper in the confession and forgiveness of your sins, that is the rhythm of the sacramental life, the structure of your life with God in Christ Jesus.

So the Pattern of the Christian life is set forth and taught in the Catechism.  But it is lived in the Liturgy.  That is where you are invited and drawn into the Pattern by the Word and Spirit of Christ.

The first part of the Liturgy mirrors the first three Commandments.  You come into the presence of God, in order to worship Him, because He is the Lord your God.  You pray, praise, and give thanks.  You kneel and bow down.  You call upon His Name in the rites of preparation, that is, the Invocation, Confession, and Absolution.  You call upon His Name in the Gloria in Excelsis and the Kyrie, the Introit, and the Collect.  And then you begin to find your Sabbath Rest in the Word that is read to you from the Holy Scriptures, which is preached to you in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus.  And it is the catechesis of that Word which brings you in repentant faith to the Table, where you actually do recline on Jesus, and you receive and eat and drink His Body and Blood.

Now, within this scope and sequence of the Liturgy, the Offertory Rites come between the Service of the Word and the Service of the Holy Communion.  It is the baptized faithful who thus confess the Creed, who pray and intercede for the Church and the world, who offer themselves and their substance for the glory of God and the good of their neighbor, and who then offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving as they approach the Lord’s Altar to receive all good things in His Body and Blood.

In these Offertory Rites, you are already doing those very things which you also continue to do as a Christian living in the world.  You confess the Word of God that you have heard.  You pray for your neighbors, for your family and friends, and even for your enemies and those who persecute you.  You dedicate and give yourself, your body and life, in service to God and your neighbors.  And you offer to the Lord your thanks and praise, in view of the fact that He gives you every good thing and all that you need in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

All of these activities, both within the Liturgy on the Lord’s Day and throughout the days of your week from Sunday to Sunday, are offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the One who comes to visit you, who serves you and feeds you with Himself at His Table.  The Catechism and the Liturgy both culminate in the Sacrament of the Altar, in the eating and drinking of the Body and Blood of Christ.  The Holy Communion is also the high point of your Christian life.  You live to and from the Lord’s Altar, and everything you do and say is a sacrifice of thanksgiving for His Sacrament.

Think about it.  The Kingdom of God is already yours in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  So, it is in that confidence, in the gratitude that arises in response to that glorious grace of the Gospel, that you live your life to the glory of God and for the benefit of your neighbors.  You glorify God by keeping His Commandments, and you love and serve your neighbor according to God’s Word, because you lack no good thing in Christ Jesus.  You have nothing to prove.  You have no need to compete with anyone for anything.  You have it all in the Word and Flesh of the incarnate Son.


From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have called the Lord’s Supper “the Eucharist,” the Greek word for thanksgiving, first of all because Jesus Himself gives thanks in His institution of the Sacrament, and then also because this Holy Supper is the greatest and best Gift, the fulfillment and fruition of God’s good creation in the flesh and blood of the incarnate Son.

It is not simply that the Church gives thanks in the celebration of the Sacrament.  It is rather that all thanksgiving finds its true beginning and its culmination in the Eucharist, because the Life of the New Creation finds its center there in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  It is, after all, the gift of God Himself in the flesh.  Throughout the heavens and the earth, there is no other part of creation that is also the Creator, given and poured out for His creatures, that He should live and abide in them, and they in Him.  Nothing else can even begin to compare to this most excellent and priceless Treasure.  But the Eucharist does not result in the despising or rejecting of creation!  No, it is the Eucharist that makes this poor life of labor, not only tolerable, but a wonderful blessing.

As you are given to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ — no matter what else may come your way or happen — you are able to say and to sing, “Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever,” because the pledge and promise of that reality is given to you in the Holy Communion.  Indeed, the Church gives thanks in the celebration of the Sacrament, not only because it is meet and right so to do, but in order to exercise and practice the giving of thanks at all other times and in all other places.  You learn to look at all of life, and to receive it, as a gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.  For that is what it surely is.  And when everything is a gift, then there is nothing left for you to do, except to be giving thanks to the Giver of all good things.

It is thanksgiving that is always overflowing from the Eucharist into your whole week and the whole world.  And then it is always returning to the Eucharist, because that is where the Lord, the great Good Shepherd, has prepared His Table for you, His lavish Feast of the finest Wine and the choicest Meat, that you should there have joy and gladness in Him, in the presence of God, and in the face of all your enemies.  What can sin, death, the devil, or hell do to you, when the Blood of the Lamb not only marks your door but fills your body and soul with His own divine Life and every grace and blessing of God?  And what can man do to you, when you are fed with the Body of Christ, the incarnate God, as a pledge and a down payment on the resurrection of your body?

The eucharistic life that you live in and from the Sacrament of the Altar is firmly grounded in the confidence that everything is yours in Christ Jesus.  For the Lord your God has not only pledged Himself to you with His sure and certain Word, but He actually feeds you with His own holy Body and His precious Blood.  Thus do you stride forward with the bold courage of Joshua taking the Promised Land, knowing that the Lord is with you, that He fights for you, and that He withholds no good thing from you.  Thus are you absolutely and utterly free to live and to love without fear.

You are free to give yourself to and for others.  You are free to pour yourself out, even unto death.  You are free to lay down your body and life as a sacrifice.  You are free to forgive and gladly to do good to those who sin against you.  You are free to give up your ambitions in order to care for your family, to care for the stranger at your door, and to care for the Lazarus laid at your gate.

It is in such confidence and freedom that you give thanks to God in all that you do and say, at all times and in all places, because you discover in the Eucharist that all of creation is God’s good gift to you in Christ.  As you receive His Body and Blood with thanksgiving, so do you receive all things with thanksgiving, and you happily enjoy them and put them to use in faith and love.  Your fasting and prayer, your confession of God’s Word, your tithes and almsgiving, and all of your good works, all flow from the fact that you are in Christ, and Christ Jesus lives and abides in you.

You live this eucharistic life in the Cross and Resurrection of the same Lord Jesus Christ, not simply as historical events and intellectual facts, but by way of your Holy Baptism, by Confession and Absolution, and by participation in the Lord’s Supper.  It is the life of discipleship, which is to bear the Cross and to follow after Christ, sharing in His Baptism and drinking from His Cup.

Which is to say that living a eucharistic life is a daily practice for a faithful martyrdom, however that may come, as God so wills.  Perhaps not with a gun to your head or a sword at your neck, but yet by the daily drowning and dying of repentance, by the bearing of the Cross in faith and love.  Your thanksgiving to God is exercised and put into practice by dying to yourself and living unto Christ.  You cling to His Gospel, and you willingly let go of everything else, even your life in this world, as needs may be.  You love and forgive your neighbor, as the Lord Jesus does for you.

All of this you do and suffer in the hope and promise of the Resurrection, the pledge of which you have received in your Holy Baptism and in the Holy Communion.  Though you die with Christ, you know that you shall be raised with Him, as well, and glorified with Him in body and soul.  That is your comfort and your peace in the midst of all adversity.  And that is the comfort you are also then able to confess, by word and deed, to and for your neighbors in the world.

Living Sacrifice and Living Sacrament

As you receive Christ Jesus in His Word and Holy Sacraments, so do others receive the Love of God in Christ through you.  On the one hand you become a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12), and on the other hand you are a living sacrament of His grace, mercy, and peace to your neighbor.

If one considers the Old Testament, it becomes obvious that sacrifice is broader than offering and death.  It is also fellowship and life in the gifts of God, as that which has been offered is shared with the Lord, with His ministers, and with His people.  The Peace Offerings, in particular, were sacrifices of thanksgiving, which acknowledged and confessed the grace of God and the peace that He has obtained and bestows by His Gospel.  And those sacrifices always included a festive meal, in which family, friends, and neighbors were invited to participate in the good gifts of God.  Those gifts were sanctified by His Word and prayer; they were received and shared with thanksgiving.

So also for you, thanksgiving to the Lord is manifest, not only in the prayer and confession of His Word, the fruit of lips that praise His Name, but also in love for your neighbor.  To know and trust that everything you have is a gift from God, is also to understand that He provides for you so that you are able to love and serve the people He places alongside you in the world.  As you return thanks to the Lord and offer yourself in faith to Him, you also share what you have received with your neighbors in love.  You live and work for your neighbors in the peace that God has given you in Christ Jesus.  In particular, as you give thanks for the salutary Gift of the Body and Blood of Christ, you are strengthened by that Gift in faith toward God and in love for your neighbor.  And so is your neighbor served and strengthened by your love, unto faith and life with God in Christ.

You can see it exemplified in St. Polycarp of Smyrna, a beloved bishop and martyr of the second century.  His life and ministry, and especially his faithful martyrdom, are described in sacramental terms, as though he were becoming the Sacrament itself, that is, the Body and Blood of Christ, in his martyrdom.  It is clearly understood and expressed that he is not Christ, nor could he ever take the place of Christ, which is not the point at all.  It is rather that his entire life and ministry have been rooted in the giving and receiving of the Sacrament.  So, as he goes to his martyrdom in faith and love, he does so abiding in Christ, and Christ in him.  The Lord is with him in his death, so that he is sustained in his confession and witness, and countless others are strengthened by him.

Your own life, as well, is lived to and from the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, in such a way that you also become a living sacrifice of faith and thanksgiving, and a living sacrament of peace and love, as your body and life are conformed to the Pattern of Christ Jesus.  As He has given Himself for you on the Cross, and as He gives Himself to you in the Sacrament of the Altar, so does He offer you to the Father (in Himself) as an acceptable and pleasing sacrifice, and so does He give you to your neighbor as an instrument of His grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

To be sure, you speak the Word of the Gospel to your neighbor, as you are given opportunity to do so.  And as a Christian, you forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you.  But your love and forgiveness are demonstrated, and the love of God is confessed and demonstrated, in all the ways that you serve and care for your neighbor in this body and life.  As you fulfill your stations in life, and as you provide for your neighbor’s needs, you are among the gifts of God for your neighbor.  All of this in spite of the fact that neither you nor your neighbor are worthy of these good things.

It is not unlike the way that St. Mary becomes a living sacrament of Christ when the Word of God is conceived in her womb and becomes true Man.  God the Father gives to us His only-begotten Son by this Woman through conception and birth.  And He gives Himself to your neighbor through you, through your words, through your hands and feet, through your callings and stations in life.
Such love for your neighbor is the fruit of Christ’s love for you in His Holy Supper.  As He serves you at His Table with His Body and Blood, so do you love and serve your neighbors in the world.

He says to His disciples, and so also to you: “I Am here at the Table to serve you.  I am with you as the One who serves.  So, you also serve one another.  As I have loved you, so love one another.”  So the very things that Christ Jesus does for you and gives to you in the Holy Communion, you in turn do for your brothers and sisters in Christ, for your neighbors in the world, because it is now Christ who lives in you, shaping and filling your entire life by the means of His Holy Sacrament.

“I Am the Vine, you are My branches,” says the Lord.  “He who abides in Me bears much fruit.”  As you abide in Him, therefore, by abiding in His Sacrament, He bears His good fruits in you.  As His Cup overflows for you, so does His Cup overflow in you for your neighbor.  For there is no end to the grace of God in Christ and the Gifts that He freely gives to you in love by His Word.

As the Church and the ministers of Christ administer the Sacrament in the Name and remembrance of Jesus, you likewise do what He does in remembrance of Him.  Not that you would presume to administer the Lord’s Supper apart from His Divine Call and Ordination to the Office of the Holy Ministry, but that you do for you neighbor what Christ Jesus does for you.  He washes your feet.  He feeds you with His Body and Blood.  So you also love your neighbor.  You do wash his feet, as needs may be, and there are those neighbors who need such help and assistance.  You love your neighbor by taking care of his body, and by taking care of his spiritual life through the confession of Christ’s holy Name.  You feed him when he’s hungry, you give him to drink when he’s thirsty.  You give your time and energy, and you pour out your body and life, in service to your neighbor.

Now, consider the various ways that Christ deals with you in the Sacraments: He visits you in mercy.  He sets you free from the bondage of your sin and death.  He reconciles you to Himself and to His Father.  He brings you into His House and clothes you with His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness.  He shelters you and feeds you at His own Table.  He heals you.

If you think about those things that He does and gives in Holy Baptism, in Holy Absolution, and in the Holy Communion — He visits you with charity, He covers your nakedness, He feeds and shelters you, He gives you drink, He heals and gives you life — what does all of that sound like?  Are these not the very things that Christ describes in St. Matthew 25, when He addresses His sheep and testifies to all that they have done for even the least of these, His brothers?  You live that life and do those works of love for your neighbor, because Christ Jesus does all of these things for you.

It is in this way that God takes His creation to Himself, and He redeems it and sanctifies it.  All of creation longs for the revealing of the sons of God.  And even now, though hidden under the Cross, the sons of God are being revealed, as Christ gives Himself to them in His Gospel, and as He then lives in them by grace.  It is a flesh and blood life that He lives in them, and they in Him.  It is real.  It is not just a message, but a life that is lived in the Body of Christ, to and from His Altar into the world.  For not only Christ, but His Body, the Church, is revealed in the Breaking of the Bread.

When a Christian lives faithfully, and suffers patiently, and does good for his neighbor, Christ be praised that He is thereby establishing and extending His Kingdom in this world, albeit hidden under His Cross.  So it is that Christ Jesus, who reigns over you in love from the Tree of His Cross, and whose Kingdom comes to you in your Baptism and in the Eucharist, comes with His Kingdom in the life of faith and love that you and all of His Christians now live in Him within the world.

The Grain of Wheat has died and bears abundant fruit.  Not only for you, but so also in your body and life.  In the confidence of your Baptism, dying and rising with Christ Jesus by His Word and Holy Spirit, you live a heavenly life within your place on earth.  You anticipate the Resurrection of the body, and you dwell by faith in the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells, even as you live and serve, and suffer and die, in your mortal body here and now. 

That is no pretense.  For Paradise is reestablished within the Church on earth, the Tree of Life at its center in the Sacrament of the Altar.  As you eat and drink the Fruits of that Tree, the Medicine of Immortality, the Body and Blood of Christ, so do you bear good fruits after His own kind to the glory of His holy Name, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is one God, now and forever.

17 June 2018

The Mystery of the Kingdom of God in Christ

The Parables of Jesus are well known and familiar.  They are prominent in the teaching of our Lord in the Holy Gospels, and they are both engaging and easy to remember.

For all of that, the Parables of Jesus are often misunderstood, not only in their particular points but in their whole purpose.  They are not offered as the “illustrations” that many suppose, as though to make things clear and sensible.  The Parables are not only a revelation of the Kingdom of God, but also a concealing of that Kingdom.  They certainly do have something to teach us, but only as the Lord Jesus unveils the Mysteries of the Kingdom of God to His disciples within His Church.

To this point in the Holy Gospel, St. Mark has described the authoritative preaching and miracles of Christ Jesus, indicative of His identity as the incarnate Son of God.  But, as you may remember from last week, there was a mixed reaction to Jesus.  There were some who believed in Him, yet others who thought He was crazy, and still others who accused Him of being an agent of Satan.

So, then, in His preaching to the crowds, Jesus spoke in Parables in order to accentuate the Mystery and the hidden character of His Kingdom.  His Words are simple enough, and His stories are vivid and captivating; they seem so obvious at first, but disarmingly so.  For the Word of God in general, and the Parables of our Lord in particular, cannot be understood apart from His Holy Spirit.

For those who reject the Ministry of Christ and His Spirit, the Parables serve only to darken their minds and to confuse their understanding even further.  As Jesus has already said to the disciples earlier in this chapter of St. Mark: “To you it has been given to know the Mystery of the Kingdom of God, but to those on the outside everything is in Parables, so that, “Seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

As it is, even the disciples did not understand the Parables, nor could they understand apart from Christ, the catechesis of His Word, and the gift of His Holy Spirit.  Neither could you understand.  For those outside the Church of Christ, apart from His Gospel, the Parables conceal the Mystery.

What, then, is the Kingdom of God?  What is it like?  That is the Mystery in question.  If and when the Kingdom is identified, then the Parables are able to illustrate its character and significance.

To that end, it is necessary to recognize the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus.  He is the Lord’s Anointed, the Christ, our King, who comes to save us for life with Himself.  It is in and with His coming in the flesh that the Kingdom of God is at hand, as St. John the Baptist and then the Lord Jesus Himself preached.  To understand the Parables of the Kingdom, to learn anything at all from them, you must first of all recognize the presence of the Kingdom of God in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, in His Body, crucified and risen from the dead, given and poured out for you.

Keep that at the forefront of your mind as you hear these Parables of the Kingdom this morning.  Both of them recall a fact that has seemed obvious to me since my teen years in rural Nebraska, where most of my friends and neighbors lived on farms: If fox holes discourage atheism, farming certainly does.  A farmer must rely on the Providence of God for everything he needs, for sunshine and rain, the fertility of the seed, and the productivity of the soil.

Along with that agricultural reality, these two Parables share a common background and context in the Parable of the Sower (earlier in St. Mark 4).  In that case, Christ is the Sower of His Seed, which is the Word of God, but the various conditions of the soil hinder and impede its growth.

You remember how it goes.  Some of the Seed is stolen away by the devil before it has a chance to put down roots.  Some of the Seed puts down its roots okay, but the soil is too rocky and too shallow for the seedling to survive.  And some of the Seed gets off to a good start, but then it is choked and overwhelmed by the weeds of the world.

Even so, some of the Seed prospers by the grace of God and produces a bountiful crop — thirty-fold, sixty-fold, or even a hundred-fold.  And that is the case, now, in the Parables this morning.

First there is the Farmer who plants the Seed; and then, while He lies down at night and rises by day, the earth sprouts forth a crop from the Seed that has been Sown.

To understand the Parable, realize that Christ Himself is both the Sower and the Seed — the Word of God who became flesh, was crucified, died, and was buried.  Having planted His Seed, He lied down by night in the sleep of death, relying on His Father to raise Him up at the proper time.  And by the Spirit of His God and Father, He got up on Easter Day.  By the way of His Cross, He was “planted” in the ground.  And then He “sprouted” from the dust of the earth in His Resurrection.

As Jesus says more clearly, for example, in the Gospel According to St. John: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”  He was speaking of Himself first of all, of His Cross and Resurrection, and of those who die and rise in Him.  So, too, in the first Parable at hand today, the sprouting of the Seed as a crop from the earth marks the beginning of the harvest.  For all things are completed by the Cross of Christ, in such a way that His crucified and risen Body is the First Fruits of the Resurrection of all flesh.

So it is that, in the sure and certain confidence of His Resurrection from the dead, Christ and His Cross are now planted within and through His Church on earth.  How so?  By the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  Such preaching will not fail to produce a crop.  Not by any ingenuity or power of man, but solely by the grace of God, by the power of His Word.

First the Blade emerges from the earth, which is Christ Himself who rises from the tomb.  Then the Head of Grain — that is, the Ministry of Christ, even to this day — bears the fruit of His Word, by which the Church, the Body of Christ, the full grain in the Head, grows and prospers in Him.

Nowhere is this more true for you than it is in your Holy Baptism.  For there, in that washing of the water with His Word, you were “planted” together with Christ in His death, and “sprouted” together with Him in His Resurrection.  So do you continue to lie down and get up, to die and to rise with Christ Jesus, by night as by day, in the daily and lifelong significance of your Baptism.

Which is to say, as you are planted and growing in Christ, as you are watered by His Word and with His Spirit, He bears an abundant crop and good fruit in your body and life, in your callings and stations on earth.  For you are righteous by faith in Him, and you flourish like a palm tree and the great cedars of Lebanon.  As you are planted here within the House of the Lord, you flourish in the courts of our God.  You are green and alive, and you bear the fruits of Christ all your days.

That all sounds great, of course.  But it is often not evident or obvious in your experience of life.  You may well be discouraged by the apparent lack of growth in yourself or in the Lord’s Church.  The efforts and achievements are rather small and meager by the measure of the world.  Perhaps you would go so far as to say that even your best effort is no bigger than a grain of mustard seed.

Well, that is the way God works.  And that is the point to the second Parable.  In the first place, again, it is Christ Jesus Himself who is that tiny grain of mustard.  He is so meager in appearance, especially as He is hung upon the Cross, bruised and bleeding, and wounded for your salvation.

And yet, in the humility of His Cross we behold the greatest Tree of all, the Tree of forgiveness, of Life and Salvation.  It is the crushing defeat of the devil, the destruction of death and the grave.  It is the comfort of the afflicted, a shelter for the lost, and your own help and hope in time of need.

This “Mustard Seed” of Christ the Crucified has truly sprouted into many great and marvelous things.  And so does He continue to give life through His meager and humble Means of Grace.

The unassuming, unimpressive Tree of the Cross is now planted by the unassuming, unimpressive preaching of the Gospel.  It is watered by the hidden, unseen Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism and Holy Absolution.  It is nurtured and sustained by the Body and Blood of Christ under bread and wine.

None of this is much to look at.   It is by the Word of Christ, by faith in His Word, and not by sight.  And yet, these simple Means of Grace are the Seeds of the Cross, which have sprouted a Church with branches all over the world, in all times and in all places, including right here and right now.  It has not been accomplished by the power and strength of man, but by the mercies of God in Christ, by the ways and means of His Cross.  This, too, belongs to the Mystery of His Kingdom.

So, too, the same Lord accomplishes His purposes, according to His good and gracious will, in you, in your body of flesh and blood, in your callings and stations in life.  Not because you are so big and strong, so clever, or so smart, but in spite of the fact that you are so little, so pathetic, and so weak.  It is for you, now, as it was for the disciples then.  By grace alone, by the catechesis of Christ, you are given to know and believe the Mysteries of God, and to bear fruit in His Name.

Through His Apostles, in spite of their foibles, in spite of their fumbles and faults, He established and built His Church on earth.  And to this day, even to the close of the age, He continues to care for and preserve His Church by the Word of His Apostles.

But all of this remains “in spite of appearances.”  In the final harvest all things will be brought to light and shown for what they are, but until that great and glorious day it all remains hidden under the Cross.  Even so, no matter how bedraggled the Church of Christ may appear in the world, she remains nonetheless His Body and His Bride, the embodiment of His divine Kingdom on earth.

Consider our own little congregation.  We are part of something much older and much bigger than we appear to be.  Something much older and bigger than the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.  Something much older and bigger than even the Reformation and its five-hundred year old legacy.  We belong to the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church of all times and all places.  That is our heritage under the Cross, right here on the corner of Milton and Dale in South Bend, Indiana.

If you look back on the history of Emmaus, there are any number of twists and turns and ups and downs.  There were years of much larger membership, and other years when things looked pretty grim.  But the one constant reality has been the gathering of pastors and people around the pulpit, font, and Altar of Christ.  In the preaching of His Gospel, in the administration of His Sacraments, we are and remain the Church of Christ, His Body and Bride.  No more nor less when everything is going well, or when it all seems to be falling apart.  In the Ministry of His Holy Gospel, no more impressive than a tiny grain of mustard, we receive the fulness of Christ Jesus and His Kingdom.

So do we continue, by the grace of God in Christ, trusting Him to give us growth, if not outwardly then inwardly, according to His good and gracious will.  Trust and believe that He will produce a bountiful harvest from this field of His Church.  By the planting of His Seed right here, He grows the branches of His mercy and forgiveness, that others also might find rest in His cooling shade.

In the shelter of His Cross, under the protection of His arms, and nurtured by His good fruits, His Body and His Blood, sleep in the peace of His forgiveness, and rise in the confidence of faith in His Resurrection.  Eat your bread, and eat your meat, drink your water and your wine, work your job, and take your rest, all in the joy and gladness of your Lord.  For all the while, by night as by day, the Seed of His Gospel is sprouting and growing, though you know not how.  Whether you may plant, or whether you may water, as the Lord so calls and wills, it is the Lord Himself who gives the growth.  Because the Kingdom of God is in Christ.  The Field is His.  The Seed is His.  The Crop is His.  And you are His, to whom be all the glory, honor, and praise, now and forever.

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

10 June 2018

The Household and Family of God in Christ

The Builder of all things is God.  He is the Maker of the heavens and the earth, and of all that is in them.  He also created the Man in His own Image, and the Woman for the Man, and He gave them to each other as husband and wife.  And He planted a garden in the East, the Paradise of Eden, which He gave to the Man and the Woman as their home.  All of this He did, in love, by His almighty and eternal Word.  And it was very good.

Within this God-built house of creation there is security and strength.  It is beautiful by His gracious design, well-structured by His Wisdom, and upheld in love by the power of His Word.  Within His good creation, in the good order that He has established, there is safety and security for those who live according to His will, that is, by faith and in love, according to His Word.

Living in the place the Lord has provided, the Man is able to serve and care for the Woman, and the Woman is able to support and serve the Man.  Together they are fruitful and multiply, they fill the earth and subdue it.  They exercise dominion in the Name of the Lord, under His blessing.

So, what happened?  The house is falling apart.  The whole world is dirty, messed up, and dying.  Heaven and earth are passing away.  Creation groans under the curse of sin and death.  The grass withers, the flower fades.  There is a deep rupture that you cannot hope to patch, clean up, or fix.

Not only in the world outside, but even within the home, there is disarray and trouble instead of the security and peace that God intends and everybody longs for.  Marriage and family are under attack and constant stress.  Where the Lord has commanded the honor of father and mother and the fidelity of husband and wife, there is disrespect and disobedience on the part of children, neglect and abuse on the part of parents, unfaithfulness and hostility on the part of spouses.

Even in those places where you ought be most at ease and comfortable, the devil runs amok and causes all manner of unrest.  Instead of contentment and cooperation, there is dissatisfaction and dissension.  Instead of peace and health, there is hatred and hurt.  Not only in others, but in you.  Satan entices you with lies and false promises, and then accuses you of your sin with a vengeance.  He attacks you in body and soul, as he tyrannizes all of the children of men with the fear of death.

The devil has such power and strength to constrain and threaten, because Man has presumed and attempted to build his own house.  The Woman takes what the Lord has not given.  And the Man declines to guard and protect his wife.  He does not speak the Word that God has spoken, nor does he step into the breach to subdue the crafty serpent.  Instead of receiving what the Lord provides in faith and giving to his wife in love, the Man ignores the Lord and follows the Woman into sin.

This sinful rejection of God’s Word puts everything in jeopardy, into a tailspin.  It puts you at odds with both God and the devil, and that’s a double enmity that you will not survive on either side.

In attempting to build your own house, instead of living by faith and in love within the House that God has built and provided for you, you’ve taken on a futile task that cannot and will not succeed.  So you struggle and toil away to stake your claim, to protect your space, to guard your castle and maintain it, to shut out the noise and keep death at bay.  Your house requires constant work, whether you do it yourself or pay someone else to do it for you.  And yet, it still won’t last.

Your mortal body and life are subject to the same futility.  The task of growing and gathering food is backbreaking labor, which drives you back into the dirt from which you are taken.  Childbirth, too, is under the curse of sin and the constant threat of death.  It is dangerous and precarious, and it takes a toll on your body.  From its beginning to your life’s end, death has marked its prey.

The daily fight to survive in this fallen world, in the face of death, in the midst of guilt and shame, also pits the Man against the Woman, the parents and the children against each other, and brother against brother.  When you are endeavoring to build and keep and live in your own house against all odds, then everything is a potential threat, and everyone is your opponent.

You do make alliances, to be sure, for the sake of survival.  But even your allies are a threat once all your common enemies are gone.  No one gets out alive.  Sooner or later, it’s just you in your crumbling castle, stacking all your furniture against the front door in the hopes of reinforcing it, firing your canons out the windows, and pouring hot oil on the heads of all your foes.

Men use their strength to protect and pamper themselves, to make demands on others, to intimidate or undermine their neighbors, and to take for themselves whatever they can.  Women are often left to fend for themselves, and so they do.  If the men will not care for them in love, the women will conspire and manipulate to secure what they need and take care of themselves.  Children observe their parents and so learn to emulate their strategies and sins, in order to get what they want.

Each of you has your own sins, according to your own personality, your own abilities and traits.  Your house is not the same as your neighbor’s, and you’re proud of that fact, even as you fight to conceal your envy and jealousy.  But the underlying problem and the larger context are the same.  Sin and death hold sway, and so the devil has you and everyone else imprisoned and enslaved in your own houses!  You’re not safe inside.  You’re shackled and chained, and bound to lose it all.

But now the Stronger Man has come to the rescue, just as Jesus says.  The Lord Himself has come to plunder the devil’s house; which is really not the devil’s own domain, but the one that he has usurped and taken over, in which he holds you captive.  The Lord enters in to bring you out, and He establishes a new house and home, one not made with mortal hands but eternal in the heavens.

First things first, He comes to bind the strong man, Satan, and He does so.  But the Lord Jesus is stronger than the devil, and He defeats the devil, with a different kind of strength altogether.  Not with the power and might of this world, but with divine patience, tender kindness, and gentle compassion.  He does not impose His will upon His neighbors, nor does He establish a house for Himself.  He rather lives as a Son in His Father’s House.  He does the will of His God and Father.

In that strength and authority of faithful obedience, Jesus submits Himself to death, in order to forgive the sins of all the children of men.  Far from making a life for Himself, He lays down His life in love for others, in the faith and confidence that His Father will raise Him up again.  He does not take for Himself what has not been given, but He receives all things from His Father, in order to give all things to His neighbor.  In order to be a strong Husband for His Bride, to give her life and care for her in love, and to provide a home for her in the House of His dear Father in heaven.

From the outside, looking in, He appears to be downright crazy, and in patience and love He bears that blasphemy against Him.  He does not get angry or defensive.  He simply refuses to count or consider such insults.  The fact is that faith and love and the Cross of Christ look foolish and weak, ludicrous, and even insane.  But Jesus does not take offense at what others think of Him, because He is content with the Word and Wisdom of His Father.  He knows the pledge and promise of His Baptism.  He knows His office and vocation.  He knows that His house and home are with God.

Therefore, Jesus does not go out to His mother and His brothers, and He will not be taken custody by them.  He does not disrespect His family; He does not disown them or distance Himself from them.  But He calls and gathers a whole new family to Himself, into the House where He is found, by the preaching and teaching of His Word.  He establishes and populates a new household and family of God, which includes St. Mary, St. James and St. Jude, and disciples from all the nations.

By His own perfect faithfulness, and by His voluntary sacrifice for the sins of the world, He has robbed Satan of his weapons and his ammunition.  Sin is forgiven, and death is defeated; which leaves the devil with nothing to attack you with or hold against you.  Rather, creation is restored and made brand new, and reordered according to the will of God — already in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, and so too for all who live and abide in Him.  For His crucified and risen Body is the Temple of God, which is an eternal House for all who are His family by faith.

He brings you into that House and makes you a member of His own dear family by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He brings you into His own household and family, even as He plunders the devil’s house.  For He frees the children of men from captivity to sin and death.  He brings them to life and sanctifies them by the gift of His Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

Those who refuse and reject the Holy Spirit — those who refuse and reject the Gospel — remain in the bondage of the devil and outside of the Lord’s House.  Apart from repentance, that’s forever.

But you who are gathered by and around Christ Jesus — by and around His strong Word of faith and forgiveness of sins — you are His Mother, His brothers and His sisters.  That is to say, you are collectively His Church, the Bride of Christ and the children of God.  You live now in His House, as surely as you are here to be catechized by the preaching of His Word, to abide in His Baptism, and to partake of His Body and Blood.  You live and abide in the household and family of God.

So, then, as the Lord your God forgives all of your sins — He holds none of them against you — Satan cannot legitimately accuse you of anything.  Nor can the devil threaten you or scare you with death anymore, since your God and Father has raised Christ Jesus, your Brother, from the dead.

Consider how this strength of Christ Jesus sustains you.  For you are safe and sound within His House, which shall not fall.  Its sure foundation is the sacrifice of His Cross, once and for all.  And just as He is risen from the dead, never to die again, so shall His House stand fast forevermore.

Here at His Table you are fed with food and drink that you don’t have to work for.  You are a child of God, and your Father feeds you with the flesh and blood of Christ.  It is by the sweat of His brow, by the labor of His Cross and Passion, that you eat and drink and shall not die but live.

Here in the Lord’s House, you and your family are given life in place of death.  This promise is for you and for your children, for your parents and your spouse.  The birth pangs of repentance are not the mark of mortality, but are the glory of the Cross, unto immortal and imperishable life with God.

You don’t have to build a house for yourself.  That whole futile rat race is ended.  You no longer have to fight that no-win battle against death, which wearies you and wears you out but gets you nowhere.  You rather live in the place where God has put you, a beloved child in His family, and a permanent resident of His house and home, by faith in Christ Jesus.  And, as such, He strengthens you to make a safe house and a loving home for your neighbors here on earth, whether in South Bend, Mishawaka, southern Michigan, or Gary, Indiana, or wherever you may roam.

You husbands have the strength, in Christ, to care for your wives.  You mothers have the strength to care for your children.  You children have the strength to care for your parents, and you brothers and sisters have the strength to care for each other.  Not with any flawless perfection of your own, but with the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus, which is yours by His grace through faith in His Gospel of forgiveness.  Not out of guilt or shame or fear, but in His peace and hope and charity.

You have this strength to love and serve each other, because you have your home and family in the strong House of the Stronger Man, Christ Jesus.  By His Cross and Resurrection from the dead, He has defeated your enemy, the devil, and He has reconciled you to His Father in perfect peace.  He has made a place for you forever, and in Him is your Sabbath Rest that shall not end.  In His crucified and risen Body — which you have entered by your Baptism, and which you eat and drink in the Sacrament of the Altar — you have genuine security.  You really are safe with God.

So, too, you have the strength to forgive the sins of those who sin against you, because the strength of your Savior, Christ Jesus, is the strength of His Gospel.  He does not accuse, threaten, or punish, but He daily and richly forgives you all of your sins.  He forgives your weaknesses and your fears.  He forgives your laziness and your neglect of responsibility.  He forgives your short temper and your abuse of power.  He does not hold any of your sins against you.  Instead, He calls you daily to repentance, and He gently raises you up to live by faith in Him, to live in love for your neighbor.

If the whole world thinks you’re crazy, well, never mind that; you’re in good company.  So shall you be glorified with Him who loves you.  Whatever affliction you may suffer is momentary, and it’s not even worth comparing to the eternal weight of glory for which the Lord Jesus is preparing you, even now.

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