29 August 2018

Baptized into the Death and Life of Christ Jesus

Herod celebrates his birthday with a grand party, but he’s a dead man: dead in his trespasses and sin.

St. John the Baptist goes from the frying pan into the fire — from the dungeon to the chopping block and martyrdom — but he is raised from death to life, and he lives with Christ Jesus forever.

Those are your options, as well.  It really is a life or death matter.  You have no true or lasting life apart from the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is only in His Resurrection from the dead that you are raised.  So it is only by His Cross that you have life.  It is by the sharing of His death and the losing of your own life in the world that you share His Resurrection and His life everlasting in body and soul.

That is the life that your Holy Baptism has granted, and that is what your Baptism still means for you, each and every day throughout your life.  You are put to death in order to be raised.  Your own head is removed, that Christ may be your Head, your Bridegroom and Lord.  Your body is buried with Him through Baptism into His death, in order that you may belong to His Body, the Church.

That’s what discipleship looks like.  Whether by crucifixion or beheading, it brings death and burial.  Those who baptize — and those who are baptized — are put to death for the Name of Christ.  Those who are sent to Minister in His Name, and those who receive that Ministry, live under His Cross.

And it is precisely by the Cross of Christ that you are raised with Him and live with Him forever.

As you bear and suffer that Cross, therefore, do not despair, but fix your faith and hope on Him.

As you are shut up in prison, or shut out from the crowd, or otherwise left alone and lonely, lift up your head, your heart, and your mind to Christ Jesus.  Not by your own reason or emotion, but by hearing and heeding His Word of the Gospel.  For He is the One who delivers you from death.

As you have your head chopped off — whether metaphorically or in actual fact — find your peace and rest in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.  Though you are despised and rejected by this fallen and perishing world, you are righteous and holy in the presence of God by faith in Him.

Live, then, in the righteousness and holiness of Christ.  Live by faith, by the hearing of His Word.

Do not seek to silence or shut down the Word of the Lord, and do not suppose that you will protect yourself by keeping it at arm’s length, as though it were in your power.  If you are perplexed by the preaching of repentance, do not harden your heart, but repent.  Confess your sins, and be forgiven.

Do not continue in your sins, which are a living death.  It is neither lawful nor safe to go on sinning.  And do not suppose that you shall escape the consequences; they will come back to haunt you.

Do not harbor envy and jealousy, nor bitterness and resentment, in your heart against your neighbor.  And do not let the sun go down on your anger.  But for Christ’s sake be reconciled to your neighbor by the way of mutual repentance and forgiveness.  For anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and the life and love of God do not abide in him.

Do not entertain the lust of the flesh, whether with your eyes, with your imagination, or with your body.  Whoever looks upon a woman or a man with lust in his heart is already an adulterer.  Such covetous lust conceives and gives birth to sin, which grows fully into death.

For all such hatred and adultery in your heart and mind, repent.

Turn away from evil, and do what is lawful.  Begin to practice what is good and right.

Do not be afraid to do the right thing, as though, if you did not line your own pockets and pad your own treasure chest, the Lord would let you die.  The fact is that you have already died, and yet your life is hidden with Christ in God forever.  But if you live in sin, then only death shall be your lot.

Do what you are given to do with confidence in Christ and in the promise of His Gospel.  Be strong and courageous.  The Lord your God is with you like a dread Champion.  If you share His death, so shall you also share His Resurrection and His life.  Whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.

If you are sorry for what you have done or left undone, do not despair, but repent, and do better.  Not as though you will save yourself or set things right by your own righteousness and holiness, but because Christ has died for your transgressions and He is risen for your justification.  He has saved you by giving Himself for you.  His righteousness and holiness are yours.  He so identifies Himself with you, that He now rises and lives in you; He manifests Himself in your body and life on earth.

You need not dance for this true King, nor suppose that you would be able to seduce Him.  It is in love for you that He has redeemed you with His holy and precious blood, by His innocent suffering and death; that you should be an heir with Him of His Kingdom, not by half, but the whole thing.

Here, then, is the Supper that He hosts, in proclamation of His death until He comes.  Not for the high and mighty of the world, but for the weak and lowly and despised, whom He calls to Himself.

Recline here at His Table with Him, and receive from His hand His Body given, His Blood poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for the life everlasting of your body and soul.

Where there is such forgiveness, death cannot hurt you, not really, and not for long.

Rest here under His altar, until all things come to pass and all His promises are fully realized, just as He has spoken.  You shall not die, but live.  Just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, so are you raised from death to life in Him, here and now, and hereafter forever.

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

12 August 2018

The Living and Life-Giving Bread from Heaven

The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, conceived and born of St. Mary, has come down from the Father in heaven to be your Savior; and He is the One who promises and says: “I Am the Bread of Life.  He who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”

You have come to Him, today as in the past, because the Father has called you and given you to Christ, His Son.  And you believe in Him, because the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, and He has enlightened you with His gifts, even as He sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith.  None of this by your own knowledge, insight, or understanding, but by the Self-revelation and calling of the Lord, the one true God, in the Word and Flesh of Christ Jesus.

The One who calls you is faithful, and He will surely do all that He has spoken.  You shall by no means be cast out.  The Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise is not barred to you.  The Fruits of that Tree are given and poured out for you to eat and drink, that you should not hunger or thirst, nor lack any good thing.  You shall not perish but live.  For Christ the Lord, to whom the Father has given you in love, as a Bride to her Bridegroom, will surely raise you up on the Last Day.

But for now, from the waters of your Holy Baptism you have come to Him in the wilderness.  And here, it would seem, there is rather a lot of hunger and thirst.  Indeed, you are hungry and thirsty, not only in your body, but also in your heart and mind.  So many wants and needs, so many hurts and sorrows, in yourself and in your neighbors, all of them gnawing away at your confidence.

There are ways in which you suffer precisely because of your faithfulness.  You suffer hardship and contempt on account of the Name of Christ which you bear.  You suffer because you are a Christian.  And in the face of that kind of treatment, because your flesh is so weary and so weak, there are those times in this body and life when you would just as soon give up, give in, and die.

At those times, to be sure, but even at the best of times, you are not so faithful as you ought to be.  Instead of steadfast faith and confident trust in the Lord, you harbor doubts and fears, frustrations and disappointments, discouragements, and threats of dark despair.  Against those who have failed you or hurt you in various ways, you harbor anger, resentment, and bitterness.  Instead of speaking with grace, forgiveness, and peace, you grumble and complain and utter harsh and spiteful words.  You harden your heart against your neighbors in the world, though you are called and taught to love them for the sake of Christ Jesus; and you thereby harden your heart against the Lord your God, the very Father of all mercies and God of all comfort.

You do not yet see, therefore, what your eyes long to see, neither in yourself nor in your life, nor in the world around you.  And it is so very hard to wait patiently and peacefully upon the Lord.

Your belly may be momentarily filled and satisfied from time to time, or painfully stuffed to the point that you can’t imagine another bite.  But it isn’t long before it starts growling and rumbling once again.  And even when your body is full, your heart and mind still hunger for peace and rest.

Why should you not just give up and die?  That is the question of your old Adam, at least at those times when you are not striving to make a god out of yourself.  From towering pride to the pits of despair in barely a heartbeat.  But what is the use, after all?  What point is there in trying?

Your fathers ate their daily bread.  Whether they prayed or not, whether they were evil or good, God the Father in heaven, the Creator and Preserver of all things, opened His hand to feed them, to shower them with sunshine and rain, to give them everything they needed for this body and life.  Yes, indeed.  Your fathers ate their daily bread — and they still died, just as you are in the process of dying, fast or slow, no matter what you do, regardless of your diet, exercise, or health plan.

How in the world are you supposed to survive and live?  Eat, drink, and be merry, and tomorrow you still die.  Or stop eating altogether and starve yourself to death.  What difference does it make?

Even though Jesus says and promises that those who come to Him and eat this Bread, which is His Flesh, shall not die but live forever, you know that Christians also suffer and die, they get sick and return to the dust of the earth.  So, it seems on the surface to make no difference at all, what you think or say or do, what you believe or receive.

But now, come and take your rest under the Tree of the Cross.  For that is where you live, and that is where you die, and by that Tree you shall rise again.  Even now, it shelters you and shades you, even when you are at your lowest and your worst, ready to give up and die in disgust.

By its abundant Fruit, by the Bread of this Tree, by the Blood of this true Vine, you are nourished in body and soul, not only for the here and now, but unto the resurrection and life everlasting.  For the Son of God shall raise you up on the Last Day, even forevermore.  So, even though you die, yet shall you live.  Death will not have the last word concerning you.  Christ is God’s Word to you and concerning you, and His Flesh and Blood are the surety and down payment on that Word and promise.  He is your daily Bread, your Meat and Drink indeed, by which you have life with God.

Consider that this same Lord Jesus Christ has suffered and died for you in tender-hearted kindness, in mercy and compassion, with great love for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

His Cross and Passion, His suffering and death were not meaningless or pointless, nor without hope.  These were, instead, a sweet-smelling sacrifice and offering, by which you are beloved and well-pleasing to His God and Father.  You know that is true, because God has raised this same Jesus from the dead, never to die again.  This same Jesus, the Lamb of God, who came down from heaven and became flesh, who took your sins upon Himself and died in your place — He has risen from the dead.  Therefore, you also rise from the death of your sin to live with God in Him.

As you are baptized into Christ Jesus, into His Cross and Resurrection, lay aside what is past and perishing.  Die to yourself, to the desires of your fallen flesh, to your sins, and to the habits and vices of this world.  And live unto God in Christ, in the righteousness of faith, in self-sacrificing love, in accordance with your calling as a Christian, as a disciple of Christ Jesus.  Bear the Cross in the hope and promise of the Resurrection, and be at peace with your neighbors.  Do not give yourself over to anger or despair, but speak the Word that gives life in the holiness of the Truth.

Your life is not your own (thank God!), but you are the Lord’s.  Whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.  And He has called you to live in peace, in faith, hope, and love, in Christ Jesus.  To suffer and even to die, in and with Him, that you might be glorified in Him and live in Him, not only some day, faraway in the sweet by and by, but here and now, under the Cross, by faith in Him.

The truth is that you are not cast aside or left alone in what you suffer.  You are not abandoned.  You are not forgotten.  What you may suffer as a consequence of your sins is a discipline for your good, unto repentance and new life in the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  And what you suffer in faith and love, as a Christian, is for the glory of God and for the good of your neighbor.

In any event, you do not suffer for yourself, nor by yourself, and you do not die alone.  As you have been crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ by your Baptism in His Name, so is your life now hidden with Christ in God forever.  It is not death but life that endures for you in Christ.

He who for your sake died and was raised strengthens and sustains you here under the Tree of His Cross, even here in the wilderness of this world, in the valley of the shadow of death.

The Lord Jesus loves you.  He is kind and merciful.  He does forgive you all your sins.  He is and does all the things for you that you have failed to be and do for your family, friends, and neighbors.  And as He suffered and died for your sins, and for the sins of the whole world, in His faithfulness and righteousness, so has He risen from the dead for your justification in the presence of God.

The Father has given Him from heaven for you, in the flesh, in order to save you.  To give you life.  For that is His good and gracious will!  That is the very thing that God most desires to do.  And He does it, at the cost of His own dear Son, His most priceless Treasure.

He stretches out His hand to you in Christ, in order to lay hold of you in love.  To raise you up.  To strengthen you in both body and soul, for this life and for the life everlasting.

And see here, Christ Jesus feeds you with His own flesh and blood, which He has given once for all upon the Cross, and which He still gives within His Church on earth, that all might live in Him.

Arise, therefore, and eat!  And drink from His hand, from His overflowing Chalice of Salvation.  Take your rest here at His Altar, under the Tree of His Cross, that He should give you His own life and sustain you on the way that He has set before you within your callings and stations on earth.

The journey through the wilderness is too much for you to travel by yourself.  But with this Food and Drink, the Lord Jesus travels with you every step of the way.  He bestows His Spirit upon you by His Word and with His Flesh, and He thereby keeps you steadfast and upholds you in the one true faith.  He will not let go of you, but He shall raise you up in glory like unto His own.

On the way, then, be imitators of God, as the Lord has admonished you this morning through His servant, St. Paul.  Not by your own wisdom, reason, and strength, which cannot help but fail you, but by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ — nourished and sustained by His Word of the Gospel, by His forgiveness of all your sins, by His Life-giving Holy Spirit, and by His Flesh and Blood.

Live in your body, here and now, as the Son of God lives in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours, that is, by faith in the Father, and in love for the Father and for all His children in the world, and for all those whom He would yet call to be His own.

Live as Christ has lived for you, has died for you, and has risen from the dead to live in love for you forevermore.  And as you live in Him, know that even death shall never be able to separate you from God’s Love for you in Him.  That is your perfect peace and confidence, throughout your life, and even in the face of death.  For though you die, yet shall you live.  In Christ you shall not die.

Awake and arise, eat and drink, rejoice, give thanks, and sing.  And live in the way of the Lord, according to His Word and Promise.  For with this Living and Life-giving Bread of Christ Jesus, with which the Father feeds you from heaven, you come to the Mountain of God, to share in the great Feast that He has prepared for you and all the nations in the Body and Blood of His Son.

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

05 August 2018

Living on the Bread of Life Alone

Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will wear.  For the Lord your God provides you with the daily bread that you need for this body and life, solely out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.  He is the Author and Giver of Life, and He is the One who created your body, so He knows what you need, and in love He opens His gracious hand to feed and clothe you every day.  For all that, it is your duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him, to the glory of His Name.

Unfortunately, it is an ever-present danger that you are tempted to receive and regard the good gifts of the Lord without acknowledging Him as the Giver.  How easily you “fear, love, and trust” in things and creature comforts, in other people, and in your own wisdom, reason, and strength, instead of worshiping the one true God.  When you have what you want, you are smug and secure in your world, the skies are blue and sunny in your eyes, and sailing is smooth.  You easily forget about God and hardly care whether He even exists.  In apathetic ease, you take Him for granted.

But let those things all be gone, your possessions, your position in the world, your parents, spouse, and children, and then you are convinced that all hope is lost.  The skies are dark and stormy.  The deep waves roll over your head.  And in the depths of your despair, you curse the Lord your God as though He had deserted you.  Forgetting all His benefits, you long for the fleshpots of Egypt.

When your car starts making not-so-funny noises; when your plumbing backs up; when termites are eating your house and home; when the cupboard is bare, the bread basket is empty, and your Sugar Daddy “Bread King” hasn’t come through in the way that you expected, then you find that you are no different and no better than those crowds in this morning’s Holy Gospel.

When you do go looking for Jesus, it is too often in the wrong way and for all the wrong reasons.  Instead of perceiving His miraculous “Signs” as revelations of the divine Glory of His Cross, and as the promise of His Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins, and the free gift of Life and Salvation, you follow your senses and feelings in pursuit of the perishing goods and services of this world.

So the people then were “satisfied,” initially, with the bread and fish that Jesus had provided in the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  But they were already hungry for more of the same, in the hopes of keeping their bellies fed and filled and happy.  That is the hunger that drove their interest.

But that is not the purpose of the Lord Jesus.  He has not come to cater to the god of your belly.  He has not come to feed you with bread alone, but with the Word of God and His own Flesh.

He thus directs you away from the perishable things of this body and life to the eternal Life that God the Father grants to you and all the world in the Body of the incarnate Son.  The Lord Jesus teaches you to hunger and thirst for the Food that endures unto Life everlasting in body and soul.

He preaches to you this morning, that you should be turned away from your illusions and your selfish desires, from the lusts of your flesh and the growling of your stomach, to the good gifts of the Spirit of God.  That you should recognize the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus and hunger and thirst for His Righteousness and Holiness, rather than investing yourself, your time, your energy, and your money, in the pursuit of things that will not last and cannot save you.  This body and life and the good gifts of God that sustain this body and life are not to be despised or demonized, to be sure.  But neither are they to be idolized and worshiped.  The Gospel bestows something better, something divine and eternal.  The Gospel is nothing less than the Gift of God Himself in Christ.

But as soon as you recognize that there is something more and better to be sought than miraculous bread and fish for your belly, you also begin to ask the question: “What must I do to be saved?” “What must I do to work the works of God?”  You’re always picturing yourself at the center of the equation, and you think in terms of bargains and deals, contracts and negotiations, by which you would trade what you have for whatever it is that you want and need, both temporal and eternal.

It is true, of course, that in this life you do have work to do.  Even before the fall into sin, the Lord gave the man and the woman the blessed task of caring for and cultivating the Garden of Eden.  And after the fall, the Lord declared that man would eat by the toil of his hands and the sweat of his brow.  In the New Testament St. Paul indicates that those who lazily refuse to work should not be given to eat.  The birds of the air do not have barns or granaries, true, but they do go out to find and gather the food that God provides.  So you do have work that you are given to do in this life.

And yet, for all of that, you would end up with nothing for your efforts, if not for the gracious gifts of God.  He provides seed for the sower and bread for the eater.  He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good, and He gives daily bread to all people by His grace.

Not to recognize that He is the One who daily and richly provides for all that you need, and not to give thanks for all His benefits in this body and life, is bad enough.  But it is far more grievous when you close your eyes to the gracious presence of the Holy Triune God and His eternal gifts to you in Holy Baptism, the preaching of the Gospel, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion.

When you regard those precious Means of Grace as something you must do for yourself, or as some kind of favor that you do for God, then you turn the Gospel inside-out and upside-down.  Likewise, when you think of going to church as a tedious burden you must bear and carry, or as though it were an impressive work and sacrifice on your part; if you go to earn brownie points from God, to impress others, or simply out of habit, then you have missed the point entirely.

The Lord commands you to sanctify His holy day, to hold His Word sacred, and gladly to give attention to the preaching of His Gospel, but not as though He needed anything from you.  It is not for His benefit but yours, for the sake of your salvation, that He calls you to Himself, gathers you in His Name, sanctifies you by the Liturgy of His Word and Sacrament, and thereby enlightens you with His Holy Spirit.  Not that you should serve Him, but that He should serve you by His grace.

That is one of the most difficult things for anyone to understand.  It clings so stubbornly to your sinful flesh that you must “do” and “work” something for God.  And you do not even realize that you are dead in your trespasses and sins, that you are lost without the forgiveness of Christ and His free gift of Life, and that you are utterly incapable of saving yourself or satisfying God’s Law.

So the Lord Jesus teaches you by His Word and Spirit that Life with God, now and forevermore, is given and received by His grace alone through faith alone; and that faith itself is not something you can “do” or “decide” for yourself, but a gracious gift of God that He works within you, where and when it pleases Him, by the preaching and ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  No one comes to Him or believes in Him, except by the Word and Spirit of God the Father.

Apart from that divine gift of faith in the Gospel, you will never be able to understand the Lord Jesus, nor recognize Him for who and what He is, even as He comes to you here in His Liturgy.

It’s easy enough to criticize those who failed to receive Him as their Savior then.  But you are no different and no better.  You have the Word of God more readily available than ever before.  You have the preaching of the Holy Gospel, the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Holy Supper, the Word of Holy Absolution.  Yet, for all of that, you still long for the things of this dying world.

It is in His tender mercy, then, that Jesus patiently continues to come, to reveal Himself by His Word and Spirit, and to catechize you with His Law and His Gospel, unto repentance and faith in Him.  For the Holy Scriptures are all perfectly realized in Him, in His Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead.  That is the testimony of God the Father and of the Holy Spirit, from the Baptism of the Lord Jesus to His Resurrection from the dead.  Thus do His Signs reveal.

So it is, for example, that the Old Testament Manna — as miraculous and beneficial as it was for Old Testament Israel — pointed beyond itself to the Christ who was to come in the Flesh, the Seed of the Woman.  For He alone is the true Bread of Life, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man.

His Feeding of the Five Thousand was likewise far more than a single meal for all those bellies.  It, too, was a Sign that pointed beyond itself to that Living and Life-giving Bread from heaven, the Spiritual Meat and Drink indeed, which is nothing else and nothing less than Christ Jesus Himself.

He is the Word of God in the Flesh, who has sacrificed His Body and Life upon the Cross for you and poured out His Blood for your atonement; who now gives you His Body to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink in the Holy Communion, that you might live in Him, and He in you.

And yet, how blind you are, striving for the bread that perishes at the expense of your life in Christ, and seeking a supposedly “spiritual” banquet and paradise of your own devising apart from Christ Jesus, even while He is standing right in front of you, spreading His Table with His Feast, given and poured out for you and your salvation.  You stand and stare, and dare to ask, “What is it?”

“Is that all there is to it?”  This “Manna” on the ground, which no one had ever known before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh?  This little piece of what is supposed to be bread but tastes more like cardboard, and a single swallow of wine?  Where are the flesh-pots of Egypt, the choice cuts of real meat?  Where is the beef?  Where is the golden calf?  Where is the real party?  And where is your “Bread King” with the food and prosperity that you demand from your gods?

But Christ Jesus declares that He is right here with you, granting you Himself and all His benefits, His forgiveness, His Life, and His Salvation, despite the fact that you are so sinful and stubborn.

Do not go looking anywhere else.  You will not find salvation from your sin and death, and you will not find the Food and the Life that endure forever, because you will not find the only true God, “out there” somewhere; neither will you find any of that hidden away in your heart.  But the Lord is here with you and for you in the preaching of His Gospel, in the waters of His Baptism, in His spoken Word of Absolution, and in the Supper of His own holy Body and His precious Blood.  Thus does He invite you to feast upon this Meal He provides, that you might live forever in Him.

The Word and Promises of Christ in the Liturgy of His Gospel do require faith to be received and understood for what they really are.  They are what they are in any event, whether you believe it or not, but you are not able to recognize them or benefit from them apart from faith in Christ.  For the whole world and your own fallen flesh are not able to comprehend these holy things.  But faith comes by the hearing of the Word of Christ, as He opens your ears, your heart, and your mind, to receive the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.  Give attention to His Word, therefore.  Hear and heed His preaching.  Rest yourself in His forgiveness, and eat the Food with which He feeds you.

Christ here invites you to a Meal which delivers you from death and gives to you eternal Life.  Anyone who eats of it will live by faith in Him; so that, even if all deaths were combined into one and they all attacked you at will, you would still have nothing to fear.  Death cannot harm you, not when you have received this Cup and eaten this Bread.  Though death and hell combine to do their worst, attacking you most fiercely — with cancer and strokes and heart disease, arthritis, infection, or what have you — they are not able to consume you or devour you.  For Christ will resurrect you on the Last Day.  Even if you are buried miles underground, torn apart and eaten by wolves, or burned and scattered to the winds, yet shall you live in Him, both body and soul, forever and ever.

Therefore, take and eat this Food that Christ now sets before you; drink this Cup that He pours out for you here.  It is not a work that you must do, but a Meal you are given to eat and drink in peace. For you there is nothing else but to give thanks, since everything here at His Table is a Gift freely given by the grace of God in Christ.  Here there is the free and full forgiveness of your sins, so that nothing is counted or held against you.  There is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.  Though your own body may betray you, and your blood may run slow and thin within your veins, His Body and Blood will never fail or fall short, but shall bestow upon you the Life that endures forever.

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